Time off for do-good behaviour - Queenstowners stop work to reforest a hillside

Mar 13, 2024

Next week Queenstowners are clocking off for a good cause and heading to the hills – or Slope Hill, to be precise – for a series of volunteer planting sessions from Wednesday, March 20 to Friday, March 22. The goal is to put 7,000 native trees in the ground, kickstarting a huge revegetation project on the Department of Conservation-managed Slope Hill Reserve.

The call is out for volunteers to help plant trees in three community sessions:

So far, hundreds have signed up to the week-long community planting sessions run by the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust and Mana Tāhuna, and organisers say it’s a special thing to see so many local supporters willing to pitch in an hour or two to restore precious native biodiversity to this tract of public land.

The mission: to bring back some native biodiversity to this hillside (image: Supplied/Ben Teele).

The sessions for schools are now at capacity and a large contingent from visitor industry businesses are ready to don gloves. Choosing to close the laptop, down tools, or shut up shop to head out and plant trees isn’t always an easy one. But many local businesses increasingly see community volunteering as a core part of what they do.

Queenstown Airport has supported the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust for close to ten years. Sara Irvine, the airport's sustainability and corporate affairs general manager, calls it “a legacy partnership”.

“Supporting the trust has obvious biodiversity and environmental benefits, but they also provide great opportunities for people to connect. So there's that social resilience element as well.”

Approximately a dozen QAC staff will be released from their duties for a half-day next week to join the tree-planting sessions at Slope Hill Reserve.

“I think it's really important, to actually have those opportunities to connect, to get away from the day-to-day role, and to be ambassadors for their place and for their workplace,” Ms Irvine says.

“You come back feeling refreshed, and you've had different conversations, and met with different people.”

Arthur Lee is an architectural designer and certified passive house consultant with Respond Architects, and one of three staff at the Queenstown arm of the practice. A long-time volunteer, he appreciates the connection element of the planting days too.

“They create a space for people to have a good time and meet new people,” he says.

“Over two planting days I met someone from the council inspection team, I met planners and other architects. It’s a valuable exchange that simply wouldn’t happen in more formal occasions. It’s quite different from talking to someone at a conference.”

He began volunteering at Saturday planting sessions and, with colleagues around the country also acting as conservation volunteers, Respond Architects now sponsors staff to attend volunteer days throughout the year.

After scrutinising previous carbon auditing efforts they discovered the benefits mostly wound up overseas. The firm realised they could have a lot more impact by supporting the volunteer efforts locally.

The goal is to put 7,000 native trees in the ground (Image: Supplied/Kavinga Ariyathilaka).

And what about for businesses struggling to justify the time away from work?

“If a business wants to show leadership in sustainability and the environment, it’s not hard,” Mr Lee says.

“Sometimes it doesn’t cost anything – it could just mean going along to a planting site on a Saturday.”

Ms Irvine acknowledges the competing pressures when running a business.

“But I can definitely recommend the benefits that you'll see as a result of your team getting involved.

“This is a great opportunity because there's going to be so many people there to meet. You never know, it could even be a business opportunity.”

Main image (Supplied/Kavinga Ariyathilaka): Community members chip in at a tree planting day on Slope Hill in Queenstown.

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