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  • Barb and Neill Simpson are passionate conservationists working to promote conservation and to help create a healthy environment where native New Zealand flora and fauna thrive.

    From early enthusiastic participation in botanical societies, the couple has gone on to initiate projects and develop relationships that are making a real difference to conservation efforts in New Zealand.

    In 2015, the couple were awarded New Zealand’s most prestigious conservation honour – the Loder Cup – in acknowledgement of their efforts.

    The Jean Malpas Community Nursery (JMCN) has been set up in Central Otago to grow native plants for the Wakatipu Basin. Barb and Neill Simpson help drive the project – reflecting their lifelong passion for conservation, restoration and New Zealand’s native flora and fauna.

    Developing a passion

    Barb, a retired teacher, says she developed her passion for native botany from her husband Neill, who says he “just always had it”. His mother was a gardener, and he took a botany course that led to him and Barb joining the Wellington Botanical Society. They were actively involved, travelling through from Wanganui where they then lived. Neill says the Wellington Botanical Society had a strong influence on him, and the late Tony Druce, ”the best field botanist in New Zealand”, was his mentor.

    Neill then set up the Wanganui Botanical Society and became an honorary botanist for the Wanganui Museum. His citizen science involvement in botany eventually became a professional career. Neill completed a botany degree and worked for the Department of Conservation (DOC) for many years. He retired 20 years ago but continues to consult privately on native planting.

    Citizen science

    Citizen scientists are volunteers who participate in scientific projects. They often work in partnership with scientists and related experts. Barb and Neill began their work as citizen scientists.

    For many people, science is a hobby. Some hobbyists like Joan Wiffen (who found New Zealand’s first dinosaur fossil) become well known. For other people, citizen science is a way to become involved in local or national issues. For Neill, citizen science became a gateway to a professional botany career. Today, he is an acknowledged expert on native plants and the effects of exotic pests on their ecosystem.

    Citizen science is an excellent way to get involved in the community and learn more about science. Learn more about replanting and restoration, see our Citizen science section for a list of projects and then check out some of the excellent projects happening across New Zealand that you could get involved with in our citizen science Pinterest board.

    Alternatively, if you have a great idea to get your school and community involved in science, you could look at the Curious Minds initiative for funding opportunities.

    Getting dirty

    In the 1990s, Barb and Neill were involved in volunteer work to reforest burnt areas after fires on Pigeon and Pig Islands in the middle of Lake Wakatipu. With the work nearly complete on the islands after 20 years, Neill and Barb were seeking new areas to plant with natives and to replace exotics with natives, and so the Wakatipu Islands Reforestation Trust became the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust. The Trust works with volunteers to reforest local tracts of public land and to restore difficult-to-access areas such as gullies that are often over-run by weeds such as gorse and broom, replacing these introduced species with natives.

    The Wakatipu Reforestation Trust set up the Jean Malpas Community Nursery in March 2014 to grow native plants for their planting out work.

    Jean Malpas Community Nursery

    The nursery is named in memory of local woman Jean Malpas, whose Trust is a key funder of the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust and JMCN.

    The nursery was set up with three key objectives:

    • To provide free or low-cost native plants for community planting around the Wakatipu Basin in order to restore some of the natural heritage, provide a food source for native birds and strengthen recent plantings.
    • To provide a source of native and/or exotic trees that can be used to replace existing shelter belts and plantations of conifers (mainly Douglas fir) where seedling spread threatens public and conservation land and requires a continuing maintenance cost.
    • To provide an educational facility to enable children and adults to learn about native plants, their benefits to native bird life and insects and their propagation and planting.

    DOC provides support for planting projects, educational activities and joint management and funding for a part-time conservation coordinator role.

    In its first year, JMCN clocked up over 2,000 volunteer hours with 300 registered volunteers and planted on 45 different sites!

    Local schools and early childcare centres have readily embraced the opportunities JMCN provides for young people – from nursery and horticulture experiences to plant knowledge. Different schools that are involved have their own areas for planting.


    JMCN sources its seedling from Pukerau Nursery near Gore, which eco-sources local seeds. Eco-sourcing is the process of collecting and growing native plant seeds for the purpose of reintroducing plants back into the local natural environment. Pukerau Nursery collects seed from throughout Southland and Otago. Each seed batch that is collected has its location recorded so that the source of any plant at the nursery is known. Eco-sourcing assures that the nursery is growing plant varieties that are already well adapted to the local area.

    Pukerau Nursery also works with lots of plants found naturally in the Wakatipu Basin. At present, these are predominantly trees, shrubs, flaxes and toetoe.

    Restoring ecosystems

    By restoring the native plants, the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust and JMCN are helping to restore entire ecosystems. Healthy, abundant native plantings mean that habitats and food sources are restored for our native insects, birds and bats.

    Find out more about the issues facing conservationists and how we can address them in the article Protecting New Zealand’s treasures.

    Learn more about our native forest ecosystems and the smaller ecosystems formed around honeydew.

    Useful links

    Keen to connect and get involved in conservation work in Otago through the Jean Malpas Community Nursery? You can connect with them on the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust Facebook page.

    Project Gold is a DOC-initiated project dedicated to the protection and enhancement of kōwhai trees in Otago by gathering seeds, growing seedlings and planting a new generation of kōwhai. Set up your own Project Gold group with DOC or join an existing one.

    Project Crimson is working to renew New Zealand ecosystems. It works with organisations, schools, iwi, communities and individuals through its restoration and environmental education programmes. Get in touch to see how you can get involved.

    Learn more about citizen science and some of the projects happening around New Zealand with our curation of resources in this Pinterest board.

    Rural Delivery

    The Science Learning Hub thanks Showdown Productions for its assistance in the writing of this story.

    The video clip is courtesy of Rural Delivery a television programme that looks at excellence and innovation within the primary industries in New Zealand.

    Visit the Rural Delivery website to read about what Neill and Barb are planning next for the Jean Malpas Community Nursery, learn about volunteer efforts on Bluff Farm or the work of Titoki Nursery – a nursery also growing plants for regeneration projects – or discover the restoration work of Marlborough District Council’s Tūī to Town project.

      Published 12 December 2016 Referencing Hub articles
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