10 Nov 2023

'The first thing I did was collect seeds'

From Country Life, 7:40 pm on 10 November 2023

In the quiet expanse of Arowhenua Station, nestled just west of Temuka in South Canterbury, a symphony of nature is playing out. 

Thanks to the tireless efforts of one man, Fraser Ross, the once-damaged podocarp forest stands tall once again. 

In 1975, Fraser Ross, a Timaru pharmacist and devoted Forest and Bird member, took on the challenge of restoring the Arowhenua Bush. 

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

The start of a long restoration journey. Fraser Ross and a blown over tree at Arowhenua Bush in 1975 Photo: Supplied

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Room to grow. An aerial view of Arowhenua Bush Photo: Supplied

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Fraser connects with a tree he planted as a seedling Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The area had suffered a severe blow nearly 50 years ago when a north-westerly gale wreaked havoc on the podocarp forest, leaving behind a landscape in need of healing.

Undeterred by the sceptics who claimed the damage caused by rabbits would prevent trees from regrowing, Fraser embarked on a journey to rejuvenate the land. 

"I was told initially I'd never get trees to grow here because of the damage caused by rabbits, and that proved to be the case.

"But you just don't walk away; you find a solution to that," reflects Fraser. 

And find a solution, he did.

Determined to overcome the challenges, Fraser and those around him became pioneers in using tree guards around individual trees. 

The initial step involved collecting seeds and propagating them at home. With a touch of beginner's luck, the trees not only grew but thrived.

"It's amazing, really, just the transformation. I've got photos taken over the years of the stages of growth, and that used to be an open area. Now it's completely closed in and special trees there," marvels Fraser.

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Stu Bowman and Fraser Ross Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The Arowhenua Bush project stands as a living testament to Fraser's commitment.

A once barren area now blooms with life, with the lancewood, once reduced to a single tree, now standing proudly, its top hidden from view due to the dense vegetation.

Fraser's conservation efforts extend beyond Arowhenua.

He played a pivotal role in securing the protection of Conways Bush and co-founded the South Canterbury Conservation Trust, actively managing Kakau Bush. 

His involvement spans monitoring pests, weeds, and birds, and maintaining walking tracks, exemplifying his dedication to the broader cause of environmental preservation.

The large area of regenerating bush is fenced off now, but to get to it to, one must pass through a couple of paddocks owned by sheep and beef farmer, Stu Bowman, who is full of praise for Fraser.

"The Arowhenua Bush wouldn't be here unless Fraser put in decades and decades of work and we're just fortunate enough to be part of its story."

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Stu Bowman from Arowhenua Station Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Arowhenua Bush restoration project

Tim Exton, Ines Stäger, Fraser Ross, Robert Birks and Ash Pierce Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Bowman says the bush currently takes up 10 hectares.

"I'd imagine over time, we'll just keep shifting this fence back and that's the ultimate goal was to have it the way it was 200 years ago, 300 years ago."