Farmers acting for good of nature


The number of landowners who have put in place covenants on parts of their land for the good of nature is set to pass 4000 for the first time.

It is a great untold story of New Zealand landowners, mostly farmers, taking a selfless stand for good, said Mike Jebson, chief executive of the Queen Elizabeth II Trust. It works with private landowners, who make a contribution to conservation, including those making covenants to perpetually protect parts of their land.

Jebson spoke to the Sunday Star-Times after Labour sought to make political capital out conservation money being spent to eradicate pests from Great Mercury Island, owned by Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite.

The Government, which says endangered species don’t care who owns the land they live on, funds the QEII Trust. At the end of June last year, the trust had 3803 registered covenants and the number was rising fast.

“We are just shy of 4000 registered covenants. That milestone will be coming up in the next 12 months. It’s a huge achievement,” said Jebson, who is due to announce new large covenants in coming weeks.

The area covered by the covenants is the size of three national parks, the Aoraki/Mt Cook, Egmont/Taranaki and Abel Tasman national parks, he said.

“It should be part of the New Zealand story because a lot of our covenants are on working farms,” Jebson said.

A lot was heard about farmers and dirty dairying but almost nothing of their conservation efforts, he said.

“This is an untold story of New Zealand farmers and other landowners, which is helping to give real substance to New Zealand’s clean, green international image,” Jebson said in the trust’s last annual report. . .

Farmers who covenant their land do get help with fencing and pest control but it doesn’t cover all their costs and it doesn’t compensate for the loss of earnings from retired land.

However, they do it as good stewards of the land, understanding the importance of protecting native species and leaving an enduring legacy for future generations.

You can read more about the trust on its website.

NZ aims for space


A mention of Great Mercury Island grabbed my attention in a news item this morning.

I spent a school -year there supervising the correspondence lessons of the manager’s children 30 years ago.

But what’s happening there today is of far greater importance than that – a New Zealand designed and built rocket is being launched in to space.

Rocket Lab is launching Atea-1, a two-stage sub-orbital vehicle capable of carrying payloads of 2 kg up to 120 km altitude, from Great Mercury.

TV3 has an interview with Rocket Lab directors Peter Beck and Mark Rocket* here and the island’s co-owner Michael Fay here.

* Is that his real name or did he change it to fit his business?

Playing pioneers


Living on Great Mercury Island was as close as I’m likely to get to pioneer life.

We had electricity but for only eight hours a day. The generator went from 7 – 9 in the morning, an hour at lunchtime and from 5 -10 in the evening.

I adjusted to that pretty quickly and loved my time  on the island but wouldn’t like to live without power for long now.

However, I do get a taste of that life again when we go up to our hill block which has only basic accommodation and limited power.

There’s a generator for when we’re shearing but the rest of the time we rely on gas for cooking, solar energy or candles for light and a pot belly stove for heat.

I wouldn’t want to live like that all the time but every now and then it’s fun.

And views like this do compensate for the lack of mod cons:

Glen Coe hp

In praise of pet lambs


Lambing used to be the busiest and most satisfying time on our farming calender. But since we changed from breeding to finishing stock several years ago it is now just something we observe over other people’s fences.

It wasn’t easy and I don’t miss the bad seasons when wet and cold weather proved too much for new-born animals and the slink piles mounted up at gates. But I do miss the pets.

I had occasional contact with pet lambs as a child during visits to farms when we town kids delighted in feeding orphans but it wasn’t until I spent a year on Great Mercury Island that I had one of my own. 

The first was so frail when rescued she couldn’t even bleat. I called her Hush. It was a name which was not without irony when she regained her voice and made good use of it under my window at dawn.

The next orphan I adopted was the ugliest lamb I’ve ever seen but what he lacked in looks was more than compensated for by character. He loved people and whenever he heard voices he’d turn up to share the action.

Unfortunately he had no respect for privacy or property and came to an untimely end after wandering into a farm worker’s house once too often.

When I married my farmer several years later easy-care lambing had been introduced on the theory that mortality was lower when sheep were left to their own devices than when disturbed by people. Some strays still turned up at home to be warmed and fed but as soon as they were fit enough they were taken back to the paddock to be mothered-up with ewes whose own lambs had died.

However, easy-care lambing or not one of the pleasures of growing up on a farm is having a pet lamb so once our daughter was old enough to look after one we adopted an orphan each spring.

How long they stayed after weaning depended on the strength of fences separating farm and house because once a pet found its way into the garden it would be banished to the back paddock.

But Rainbow was an exception, partly because by the time she arrived a stone wall provided a sheep-proof barrier between the lamb paddock and the garden but also because she was special.

Rainbow turned up with several other orphans and from the start she stood out from the flock. There was something about her appearance and behavior that told us this was no ordinary lamb.

If it’s possible for a sheep to have personality then Rainbow did. She was gregarious, engaging and great company. When we were in the garden which bordered her patch or at the clothesline over her fence Rainbow would appear and greet us with a friendly “baa”.                                                                       

A veteran of four school pet shows she had an impressive collection of awards including winner of the lead and drink race and the fancy dress competition. She also performed for visitors, answering to her name when called, taking food from our hands and posing for photos like a professional.

Maternity complications in her third spring nearly proved fatal but despite my farmer muttering about “dragging a vet out to a pet sheep”, professional care from one who happened to be attending a cow on the property at the time ensured she pulled through and delivered a healthy lamb.

The new mother, her lamb and Cecil, the previous year’s pet, formed a happy trio until one day when, to our great distress, we discovered Rainbow dead in the paddock.

There were other lambs in subsequent springs but none has been quite like Rainbow.

What’s not to love?


In spite of the findings of the UMR survey  which found most rural people are happier with where they live that those in towns and cities, rural life isn’t for everyone.

A rural real estate agent told me she loves lifestyle blocks because people who buy them stay an average of three or four years then decide it’s not for them and put the property on the market again.

Some are put off when rosey dreams or rustic romance are thwarted by rural realities, like the former city slickers who was upset by what she thought was porn in the paddock. Some just find it’s not what they thought it would be.

 But for others, like Bevan and Sharon Shannon who moved from a 17th floor flat in Battersea, London to Eketahuna,  the transition from city to country more than lives up to expectations.

 I’ve lived in town and country – from Great Mercury Island with a then human population of nine , to London and enjoyed them all because it’s not just where you are but what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with that contributes to making you happy.

But, that said,  while I enjoy visiting towns and cities I’d prefer to live in the country and I think those of us who live in this part of the world are especially blessed.

Not convinced? Just look at at Peter Young’s  brilliant scenes of rural New Zealand and tell me what’s not to love:

 Hat Tip: Bull Pen

Tagged twice


I’ve been double tagged – first by MandM then by Keeping Stock so I have to:

              *  Link to the person who tagged you

             *   Post the rules

             *   Share seven random or weird facts about yourself

             * Tag 7 random people at the end of the post with their links

So here’s the seven random/weird facts:

1. I had a one-way ticket to Britain when my farmer and I met so he flew 12000 miles to propose to me.

2. My longest friendship is older than my memory – which isn’t a sad reflection on the state of my memory, we met when her family moved next door to mine when we were both two.

3. I lived on Great Mercury Island for a year – employed by Michael Fay & David Richwhite, who own the island, to supervise the correspondence school lessons of the farm manager’s three children.

4. I’ve received a card on every Valentine’s Day of my life – not necessarily because it’s Valentine’s Day but because it’s also my birthday.

5. I lived for three months in Vejer de la Frontera.

6. Most people call me Ele which is a contraction of my name – Elspeth, the Scottish form of Elizabeth.

7. We hosted an AFS student from Argentina and his family is now our family.

And an eighth: I never pass on anything resembling a chain letter and as this could be construed as such I’m tagging the following people as a tribute to their blogs but won’t be at all offended if they don’t want to play the game:


Bull Pen

Art and My Life 

John Ansell

Rob Hosking

Something Should Go Here

PM of NZ

Russian Jack


Friday’s poem, On the Swag, brought a comment from JC which I think deserves a post:

During the 50s and very early 60s, My parents and I were often on the road from Hawkes Bay to Wairarapa and Wellington going to all the A&P shows with my ponies and horses. We often saw Russian Jack on the road, said to be the last of the swaggers.

I remember being quite surprised at how my perception of what a swagger looked like compared to the reality. I could see very little romance in a life that required such an enormous amount of tackle that RJ carried about with him. There’s a picture of him here:

Later, when I joined the Forest Service in 1963, I saw many older men arrive in camp who had something of the same stamp.. men, some of whom would arrive in an old pin striped suit to slash scrub and plant trees. They were good to us young guys and had many homilies to pass on.. until the weekend, and then you saw the reason.. they were monstrous alcoholics who started on Friday and then drank steadily in their huts all weekend. They sometimes became incontinent and were not pleasant to be around.

In a life of working the back country of the North Island, I’ve met many men and the odd woman with the stamp of the swagger/hermit.. people who preferred their own company who were allowed to settle somewhere, even in an old car body, and did enough local work for their beer and baccy. I suppose the most astonishing thing about them is how they were often good company, even if only for a little while.

I’ve never met a swagger, but JC’s story reminds me of Tom the fencer who came to work on Great Mercury Island when I lived there. He’d had an ininerant life, and had worked on many of the bigger farms around the North Island. He was a wonderful story teller and could yarn for hours so was good company if you didn’t mind his casual attitude to personal hygiene – although we know he washed his socks in the weeks he spent on the island because we saw him throw them over the verandah rails when it rained.

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