Bush restoration a labour of love

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

HE’S a master of deflection and Denis Warburton is saying this isn’t about him.

“This story is about the tenacity of Mary-Ellen Beggs, her father’s generosity… oh and the headstone. That’s a good story,” he said.

But there’s no escaping Mr Warburton is an integral part of the Beggs Bush Restoration project. He has been voluntarily giving his time to it for nine years.

Donated to the people of New Zealand by farmer Jack Beggs in 1975, Beggs Bush is a legacy to the often unrecognised early conservation efforts of New Zealand farmers. Mr Beggs’ main aim was to give the public access to the natural environment.

The Forestry Service planted a section of the bush in pine trees and, after harvesting, it was overtaken by gorse and other weeds. Mr Beggs’ daughter Mary-Ellen Beggs began the back-breaking task of restoring the bush, clearing gorse and cutting tracks. Keen to learn more about the bush, she sought the knowledge of a man who has known trees his whole life. Enter Denis Warburton.

A true blue Wyndham boy, Mr Warburton said he was that kid who looked out the windows a lot at school.

“I yearned to be outdoors helping my father with his farm job, out in nature. The outdoors is in my blood.

Mr Warburton smiles when he says even his ‘guardian angel’ teacher Nancy Hunter couldn’t persuade him to stay for School Certificate.

He joined the New Zealand Forest Service in 1967. It was the manifestation of a love affair with trees that has never waned. The skills he gained in his forestry career could never be taught in a classroom, he said.

Mr Warburton remained in Wyndham, married and had four daughters. His wife Glenice began working at the Wyndham Community Resthome with Ms Beggs.

One day Mrs Warburton mentioned her husband was handy with a chainsaw. “In fact, we began with me teaching her how to use a chainsaw,’’ he said.

For Mr Warburton, it opened up an opportunity to ‘replant’ just some of the many native trees he knew had been felled over years of forestry in Southland. Today, he said, “I’ll be
dragged out of Beggs in a box.”

It is undeniably his passion. Most Fridays he can be found at the bush doing a variety of tasks. It’s not always glamorous but being in nature and the people he meets give him joy.

“I’ve seen young disenfranchised people arrive at the bush not wanting to get out of the van. A bit of Mary-Ellen’s famous baking and some joshing and before you know it they
are out there experiencing native bush for the first time in their lives. It’s beyond heartwarming.”

It is not only about pulling weeds and cutting tracks. Mr Warburton is now back at the books investigating growing natives from seed. He loves that the project is constantly evolving.

“Nurseries like Evandale give us quality trees every year, we have our own tree nursery and we are also looking at ways to propagate plants ourselves.’’

More volunteers are welcome, not only to help with the work but also because the pair believe this restoration project is a very special opportunity.

“We envisage a kind of Beggs Bush family,” Mr Warburton said.

“People in the outdoors learning, laughing, eating together, working together. There is a chance to move forward with the restoration in the longer term but the short-term rewards are also really visible.”

And what of the headstone? After physically manhandling Jack Beggs’ headstone from its hiding place deep in the bush, Mr Warburton said it now sat on a ridge overlooking his beloved farmland and bush.

Want to join Mr Warburton and the Beggs Bush family?

“Give it a go. Just for a day. You might find it fun. Happy people with inquiring minds are always welcome. A dislike of gorse also helps.”

Beggs Bush is a charitable trust administered by Department of Conservation.

  • Juliette Hicks is from Volunteer South