As manager of the Native Forest Restoration Trust, Sandy Crichton oversees more than 7500 hectares of protected forest and wetland that are regenerating into rich, diverse and beautiful habitats for New Zealand's unique wildlife. This year, Britomart's Greening the City project is again raising funds to support the Trust.

Melinda Williams: The Native Forest Restoration Trust was born following a tree-felling protest at Pureora. Could you tell us why that particular protest sparked your group's passion to establish the trust?

Sandy Crichton: I wasn't with the trust back then, but as I understand it, even before the trust was established in 1980, individual trustees were protesting to save forests at Pureora in the late 1970s. What they were trying to do was to ensure the replanting of felled forests at Pureora to make sure that they were planting native species rather than pines, because Pureora was one of the last native forests to be opened up to logging. I think it became quite heated at times. Some people, including some of our original founding trustees, were tying themselves to trees and that sort of thing, desperately trying to protect these trees from logging, but also trying to ensure that native species were being planted afterwards rather than pine trees.

MW: Looking at that forest today, 40 years on, do you know what sort of state it is in?

SC: Well, actually don't have any involvement at Pureora now – we don't own it or any part of it. And it's a massive reserve. I understand that it was saved and is protected, but it's not in the best condition. A couple of our trustees visit from time to time to see if it does still honour the memory of some of those trustees, because some of them have passed away.

MW: Oh, that’s sad to hear, but in a way it speaks to the importance of the work that your trust does. It’s not enough to just save a forest – it’s just as important to be able to ensure it’s looked after well long-term.

SC: Yes, that's a very good point, actually. It's actually something that's changed a lot within the trust itself. In 1980, and I guess for the decade after that, when the trust was first formed, it was all about ‘Let's get that land and we'll worry about it later’. And of course, as time has passed, the philosophy within the trust has changed, so now it's more about protecting it and managing it and making sure that we create something with true biodiverse value for future generations to enjoy. That idea that you should just go out and just buy it, protect it, and worry about it later, it's quite an old-fashioned view. That's not to say that it wasn't really important at the time, because if we didn't protect those areas of land, we wouldn't have them now. But now of course, we're looking at it more holistically – we're looking at the weeds, pests, tracks, we're looking at public access – there's this whole raft of stuff that we now look at before we purchase a property.,

MW: With the Greening the City native tree giveaway, Britomart is fundraising for the NFRT for the second year. Where does the Trust mostly derive funds from?

SC: Our income comes from a range of different sources. A large percentage comes from public appeals to purchase a property, so it's the generosity of supporters and the public. We also have some very loyal supporters who we've had for a very long time, who regularly donate, so they give us something once a month or whatever. We do receive bequests. And we also receive some funding from carbon as well – we have some areas which generate carbon income. Not as much as you would think, but that's an important source of income for the Trust as well.

MW: And is purchasing land where the majority of the money goes to, or is it actually just as expensive to carry on the ongoing upkeep and care of the land?

SC: Yes, well, it kind of carries in with what we were just talking about. Certainly, if we launch a public appeal, the funds that come in from the public appeal, we're absolute sticklers for trying to make sure that most of those funds goes to the actual purchase of the property itself. It's really important to see that that money goes to where it was intended. But other funds, like the funds from our regular donors, those people that donate regularly to the trust, those are equally as important, because it goes back to making sure we're managing the reserve as effectively as we possibly can. So a large amount of those type of funds would go to things like pest control, weed control and planting.

The pest control and the weed control are all about trying to put the absolute best conditions in place that we possibly can for natural regeneration to occur on the reserves, because our preferred way of managing our reserves is still through natural regeneration. We simply don't have the funds to plant on all of our reserves. And natural regeneration produces a much better biodiversity outcome anyway. But we also have some problem areas on reserves, areas that just won't naturally regenerate on their own, and need a helping hand. We will plant and cover those areas as well.

MW: In the last couple of years, what are the most significant successes that the trust has achieved?

SC: The appeal that we have at the moment for Patui is by the far the most money we've ever tried to raise. It's $1.7 million, and I think we've raised $660,000 towards that, which is absolutely phenomenal, and it's purely down to the generosity of supporters and the public. We wouldn't be able to do what we do without that kind of support. In the last couple of years, we also purchased one reserve down in Southland, which is at Oreti, near Otatara, near Invercargill, quite a nice reserve partly because it gave us true national coverage, so we're now covering right to the top of the North Island, and right to the bottom of the South Island, so once we purchase that property we can truly call ourselves a national organisation. But more importantly than that, it was protecting a really rare habitat.

MW: That’s wonderful. On a personal note, have you had any memorable experience in the forests that you've helped to fundraise for and purchase that for you was a real touchstone for why you do what you do?

SC: Oh yes, several. I have quite a close connection to the New Zealand falcon, and so whenever I hear a story of a New Zealand falcon coming up on one of our reserves, I get very excited. I made a film about the New Zealand falcon in 2008, before I started working for the Trust – I spent three or four years filming them in pine plantations in the South Island, and I got very, very close to them. Like all wildlife that you spend a lot of time with, they really do get under your skin. The reserve that we're purchasing at the moment, Patui, I've literally just heard from the reserve manager that we have a juvenile New Zealand falcon scoping that reserve, perching up in some of the tallest trees and looking out over the reserve. That was fantastic to hear, because when I was filming, I would watch the juveniles grow up and leave the nest, and wonder where they go. There's not a lot of places for them to disperse to. I would hear stories about them turning up in towns and cities and places where they're not really meant to go, so when I hear a story of a juvenile falcon coming up in one of our reserves, I just know that we're doing something right. We’re making it a place where an endangered species like the New Zealand falcon can feel safe. That’s just one of many stories I could tell.

MW: And finally, the question we've been asking everyone involved in this year's Greening the City project – why do trees matter?

SC: Trees provide oxygen and store carbon. They reduce air pollution, minimise erosion and provide valuable resources. They increase human well-being and are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Simply, trees are vital to life on Earth.