Orion Group and mana whenua team up to replant native forest on ex-farmland

13 February 2023 at 1:26 pm

Wairewa Rūnanga and Orion Group came together yesterday to formally acknowledge and celebrate a partnership that’s been years in the making.

Following a pōwhiri at Wairewa Marae near Little River, the two parties signed an agreement to recloak Te Kaio farm, a 280-hectare block of ex-farmland belonging to the Rūnanga.

The partnership agreement involves Orion Group bringing forestry expertise, capital, and personnel to the project, with Te Kete o Wairewa, the legal entity of the Rūnanga, supplying the land, as well as a mātauranga Māori lens.

The vision for the land is that native species will be planted to restore the whenua, adding to significant local efforts to return the Peninsula to its former forested state.

Ana Gray, co-chairperson for the Wairewa Rūnanga steering committee on the project, says this is a historic moment for the Rūnanga as well as Orion to contribute to the conservation of Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū, Banks Peninsula.

“Our aspiration is to heal and restore the whenua, flora and fauna of this area and we’ve been so pleased with Orion’s partnership in this goal.

“Our Steering Group was supported every step of the way through this process, and we’ve been able to land an agreement that is mutually beneficial. Every request our whānau have had, every question, they’ve worked with us to get an agreement our people are happy with,” Gray said.

Orion Group’s Forest and Biodiversity Lead Clayton Wallwork says a spirit of collaboration has guided the process.

“We've enjoyed the openness when developing this kaupapa with Wairewa Rūnanga and we look forward to managing in partnership over the next 35 years”.

Orion GM Future Networks David Freeman-Greene says the team is thrilled to formalise the partnership.

“Both parties have worked together to build a strong foundation for this partnership, with shared principles that will help the project flourish. To be here at Wairewa, and to be able to celebrate the journey that has got us all to this point, is truly humbling.”

Once the replanting is completed, both parties will enter the carbon farming market together and receive a share of the carbon credits, called New Zealand Units (NZUs), issued via the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme.

Orion Group began to offset emissions in 2022 and will use carbon generated from this project to offset residual emissions out to 2050. David says the Group is continuing its efforts to reduce emissions.

“Our purpose is to power a cleaner, brighter future for our community. This agreement with Wairewa will significantly support our ambition to be carbon neutral in our operational emissions, as we move towards our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Wairewa kaumatua Theo Bunker says it’s been a long time coming to see native forests burgeoning on Banks Peninsula.

“By the time I was born, there was nothing left - only photographs. So it’s just amazing that, in my lifetime, my generation will get to see forest replanted on the land that was returned to us.

“We know there’ll be a financial return but, for me, I hardly think about that. What I think about is watching this forest grow, about the bird song returning and that my mokopuna’s generation are the ones who will get to enjoy a closer relationship with te wao nui a Tāne than many Wairewa whānau have had for generations.”