Regenerating a native forest

Hugh Wilson amongst the gorse Photo: Jason Hosking

In 1987 Dr Hugh Wilson was considered a “fool and dreamer” by the irate local farming community of Banks Peninsula when he began the reforestation of Hinewai Nature Reserve.

Today, Hugh is held in high regard for his work and respected for his commitment to regenerating 1500ha of gorse-infested farmland into healthy native forest.

And Western Bay of Plenty residents have two chances to watch a new NZ-made documentary about the renowned biologist and his work on this project, when ‘Fools & Dreamers’ screens at Historic Village Cinema this month.

The 30-minute documentary comes at a critical time – as scientists, media and the public begin to understand the essential part reforestation must play in restoring biodiversity and reversing the effects of climate change.

And the film offers an inspiring example of what is possible – and urgently needs to happen – all over the world, according to its makers, Happen Films directors Jordan Osmond and Antoinette Wilson.

The duo’s documentary production company aims to showcase solutions to the many crises facing the world today. In line with the message in their films, their shoots are waste-free, they prioritise purchasing second-hand gear, and no longer fly except annually to visit family.

“There are millions of hectares of hilly, unproductive land in NZ being farmed inefficiently because we think it’s necessary – all of this land could be left to naturally regenerate.”

When, in 1987, Hugh let the local community know of his plan to allow gorse to grow as a nurse canopy for self-sown native seedlings, the response was sceptical at best and outright angry and disparaging for the most part – one farmer stating the plan was the sort to be expected only of “fools and dreamers”.

Now Hugh’s home at Hinewai overlooks a valley resplendent in native forest canopy, where birds and other wildlife are abundant and 47 known waterfalls are now in permanent flow.

An inspiring, charismatic personality, Hugh’s passion and enthusiasm for his life’s project come through in his actions as much as his words.

The botanist, published author and illustrator has not driven in a car or flown for more than 35 years, due to believing fossil fuels are a limited resource. He doesn’t have a computer, internet or mobile phone and eschews most forms of modern technology, which he feels serve no purpose in a healthy community.

Hugh says Hinewai’s hilly farmland has regenerated into native forest, using a minimal interference method that allows nature to do the work, giving life to the forest, waterways, and the creatures living there.

“All the serious work of natural regeneration of native forest and wildlife is being done by nature. People say to us: ‘Oh you’re planting all this forest back?’ And it’s a sensible sounding question, but really if we were planting this forest back we’d never do it – on 1500ha of land? Of wild, hilly, rough terrain? We’d never do it. Nature has planted the forest back, in totally ecologically appropriate and scientifically interesting ways.”

‘Fools & Dreamers’ screens at Historic Village Cinema, on July 12 at 17th Ave West, Tauranga, at 6.30pm and at 8pm. Tickets are on sale at:



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