Growing well . . . Beggs Bush Landcare Group members Denis Warburton and Marie- Ellen Beggs admire one of the replacement rimu trees planted in an area that nine years ago had gorse growing in it. PHOTO:SANDY EGGLESTON

Marie-Ellen Beggs is putting out the call for ”real greenie people” to help in the restoration of a small piece of original bush in Eastern Southland.

The Beggs Bush Reserve about 23km from Wyndham is on the northwest side of the Catlins Conservation Park.

The 180ha of bush was originally part of her parents’, Jack and Nessie Beggs’ farm.

In 1975, the couple gave the area to the former New Zealand Forest Service, sold the farm and moved to Queenstown.

In 1987, when the service was disestablished, all publicly owned forest including Beggs Bush became the responsibility of the Department of Conservation (Doc).

Ms Beggs said after she left home in 1969 she had no interest in the bush until about 2003 when she returned to New Zealand to care for her mother.

”I started coming down here to visit friends and I went to the bush reserve to see what had happened there,” Ms Beggs said.

About the same time she was sorting through her mother’s belongings and found carbon copies of the letters her father wrote to the forest service leading up to the land becoming a reserve.

Reading the letters ”inspired me to keep going back.”

It motivated her in 2006 to approach Doc which had no knowledge of the bush, she said. After Doc staff visited the area they advised pine trees planted in 1.8ha at the front of the bush needed to be taken out.

Unfortunately once the trees were gone, gorse soon took over the area.

Ms Beggs enlisted the help of friends Denis Warburton, of Wyndham, Brian Mason, of Edendale and Toni Halliday, then of Wyndham, to help with the project and the Beggs Bush Landscare Group was formed.

After Environment Southland staff sprayed the gorse in 2012, the work of replanting the area started.

The aim was to plant enough trees so in time the front area would be the same as the original bush.

Ms Halliday, who was a former Menzies College teacher organised field trips with pupils to plant natives.

The Toi Tois Lions Club members, Wyndham School pupils and other community groups also helped.

Hokonui Runanga’s Rodney Trainor, Pukerau and Edendale nurseries provided native plants.

Seedlings were also taken from under the trees in the original bush and potted ready to be planted out in the future.

The landcare group, in their 70s, also formed a trust to manage the financial side of the project.

Mr Warburton said it was getting to the stage where younger people were needed to help.

”We don’t want to see it fall over because one day we’re not going to be there,” Mr Warburton said.

”It’s not a big task —we’ll probably have a meeting once a month and have a working bee.”

Once the trees grew, the reserve would not require much maintenance but at the moment it was important the area close to the young trees was kept weeded.

Trust members had other plans for the reserve which included cutting a loop track through the bush.

An open day would be held at the reserve on Saturday, February 20 from 1pm-4pm.

”We need real greenie people that really do appreciate the environment.

”I want people like my dad,” Ms Beggs said.

People would be welcome to have input into the future of the bush, they said.

QEII National Trust Southland regional representative Jesse Bythell said it was well worth preserving the reserve.

”We’ve lost a huge amount of forest in New Zealand so any piece of original forest is precious,” Ms Bythell said.

It was mostly rimu, kamahi and southern rata in the reserve and rata was on the threatened species list.

Some of the trees further back in the bush were between 600 and 700 years old.

”You don’t wave a magic wand and get trees of that age back —they’re precious.”

The special part of the story for her was how Ms Beggs was being proactive and building on the legacy of her father who had the foresight to protect the bush.

”She’s got this real passion and pride and deep connection .. and she’s brought all these other people with her.”