Tree planting effort rewarded

Dominion Post | 13 August 2003

Dominion Post, 13 August 2003: Tree planting effort rewarded

Photo: Job well done: John Hodges, recipient of a conservation award, says he has planted tens of thousands of trees to keep gorse at bay.

[Larger image]

JOHN HODGES has lost count of the trees he has planted over the past 30 years.

"It's tens of thousands ... But I'm not a mad greenie."

Mr Hodges, of Waitangirua, has received a conservation award from minister Chris Carter recognising his efforts to improve the environment around Brandon Intermediate School in Cannons Creek, where he taught for 25 years.

Mr Hodges can vividly recall what the school's surrounds looked like when he started in 1972.

"Everything that was not horizontal was gorse.  It was taller than the fences.  The education board spent thousands of dollars spraying it, but it kept on coming back."

He decided that planting trees was the best way to keep gorse in check.  With help from Porirua City Council, Wellington Regional Council and the former Department of Lands and Survey, Mr Hodges and his students planted pine trees, eucalyptus and native species on the gorse-ridden hillsides.

"The school had a boundary with the Cannons Creek Lake Reserve, which joined the Belmont Regional Park.  So I had a blank canvas to work on.  Now the area is looking beautiful -- a bush reserve which is unusual in a residential area."

His restoration work helped bring about the return of native birds such as tui and fantail - something which brings him satisfaction.

"Just recently I saw a ruru, a native owl. That's amazing - something I never believed was possible."

After a suggestion from his students in 1990, Mr Hodges -- with backing from the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust - helped create a flax plantation at the lakes reserve.

"It is now legal for people to take flax from it for weaving.  That's a big change -- you are not normally allowed to take plants from reserves."

Even though he retired from teaching five years ago, Mr Hodges continues to plant trees and has no plans to stop.

"There are lots of jobs to do.

Two deliberately-lit fires earlier this year destroyed many of the trees.  Despite the damage, there were positive consequences.

"Those fires have bought a lot of people together and gave the planting real impetus."

Mr Hodges' immediate priority is to work with groups such as the Friends of Maara Roa to replant the fire-ravaged area.

He was delighted with his award.

"I feel good about it.  I like the way volunteers of all kinds are being recognised in this country."