Harbour Care Helping Farmers with Native Planting for Carbon Capture


Since Whāingaroa Harbour Care was established in 1995, they’ve planted close to 2.5 million native trees along streams and harbour edges in the catchment with the mission to clean up the Whāingaroa harbour and “get trees in the ground as economically as possible for landowners.” 

“We set up on the smell of an oily rag 27 years ago and not much has changed as we still run on the smell of an oily rag,” laughs co-founder Fiona Edwards.


(listen to the full interview below:)


With a long history of engagement with landowners, supporting them with riparian management, Harbour Care also has a wealth of knowledge around economical planting strategies that they can offer to help landowners who are wanting to plant native trees for carbon capturing to offset emissions. 

The Harbour Care team uses a planting style called ‘Island Style’ which involves planting manuka, kanuka and totara in dense bunches about 25-100m apart. Eventually these small bunches grow into each other creating one large piece of regenerated native bush.

This planting style can be seen on the south side of the deviation. They first trialled the style in this area because it was harder for bush to regenerate naturally due to the climate and steep terrain.

“As soon as you remove the stock and you've got any bush areas nearby, it regenerates pretty quickly in some areas. In other areas, where you don't have such a great climate or it's more exposed or it's more windy or it's too steep, that doesn't happen naturally. And that was the case for us on the southern side of the divvy,” explains Fiona.

Since planting in the area, it's taken about five years for the small bunches of plantings to converge to create canopy cover over a bigger area of land so regeneration can be achieved relatively quickly. For landowners like farmers looking at carbon capture, Fiona suggests looking at unproductive areas of land to take an analytical look at the earning per hectare.

“I've talked to some farmers and they go, ‘oh, see that piece there? I only graze it two days a year.’ So we've got steep land, south-facing gnarly stuff, areas that are harder to grow grass on.”

“That's where we think you should be planting native trees because it's probably too steep to plant pine trees. But native permanent forest, we think is the way to go. If we can do it cost effectively enough, you're not going to get rich, but you will make a steady income out of it.” 

“What all the pundits are telling us - who do the financial forecasting -  is that you'll be making around $850 per hectare eachyear off those areas.”

Having spoken to some of the experts in the carbon capture space, Fiona notes that there are a certain criteria you’ll have to meet to be eligible for the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) like the size of the native bush, the ability to grow the bush to 5m height as well as the kinds of species planted.

Once you meet the criteria for eligibility, you can link up with an organisation that measures how much carbon the species you have planted will theoretically capture by the year 2050.

“Looking at five hectares, if you had five hectares of your farm planted with native forest, in the next 28 years, by 2050, you would expect to yield 1200 tonnes of carbon credits. 

“Now, at the moment, carbon credits are around $74 a tonne. So this is 1200 tonnes of carbon that will be sequestered or collected up by the trees. They're predicting by 2050, that the amount for carbon credits may be as high as $250 per tonne.”

The figures may look lucrative but Fiona warns it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme but more of a get-financially-OK-long-term scheme. She also says that planting pine might appear like the cheaper option but there are additional costs associated with pine forests that can make the strategy less financially appealing in the long term.

“While it might be cheap to plant them, you have to put roading in, you've got the costs of harvesting them, you’ve got an unsightly mess on your farm and then you've got to pay your carbon credits back, Then,  what are you going to do with the land again?”

For the Harbour Care team, tackling big issues often starts with one small step in the right direction. Fiona’s advice to anyone thinking of planting is to “Get them in the ground. If you're thinking about it, don't think too long about it.” 

“The best time to plant a native tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today, especially if you want to be collecting credits through to 2050. You need to get them in the ground this year or next year.” 

Fiona and the Harbour Care team welcome interested landowners and farmers to get in touch for a chat about planting native bush. The team can help you plant native forests for carbon capture by partnering with other organisations to make it economical and profitable.

Contact Fiona today on 0211593327 or visit their website for more details: https://www.harbourcare.org/carbon-capture-forests