Posted By QEII National Trust | October 19, 2022

An 8.9-hectare forest that landowners the McDonald family call ‘The Gorge’, has officially become the 5000th area in New Zealand to be protected with an Open Space Covenant in partnership with the QEII National Trust.

Toby and Charlotte McDonald and their family hosted other local QEII covenantors and local community members at their farm in rural Wairarapa on Wednesday to celebrate the milestone, right next to the newly protected forest.

The newly registered Open Space Covenant protects modified primary forest and a stream system that feeds into Wainuioru River.

The forest contains rare and threatened species including Olearia gardneri (Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable). It also contains one of the few rimu remaining in the district and is home to pōpokotea (whitehead), a Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable species.

The McDonald family are excited that ‘The Gorge’, their fifth covenant protected in partnership with QEII, is the 5,000th. “This is a huge honour. This area is special to us and being the 5,000th QEII covenant makes it even more special,” says Toby McDonald.

“My dad started it all by protecting the first piece of bush in the 80s and we’ve worked with QEII several times since then to protect more places on the farm. Our local rep, Trev, knows his stuff and when he tells us about the things we’re protecting, it feels like we’re doing the right thing.”

The McDonald’s newest covenant adds to the growing network of legally protected, privately owned land in Aotearoa New Zealand, with the total area of land protected by a QEII Open Space Covenant now close to 200,000 hectares – about the same area as the North Island’s three remaining National Parks combined. Much of this protection is in lowland ecosystems where the biggest biodiversity losses have been seen.

QEII Chair, Bruce Wills, said protecting private land with a QEII National Trust covenant benefits everyone and is the most efficient and effective way to help protect the habitats of threatened animals and species.

“Open space covenants are vital to protecting our natural taonga, 70 per cent of New Zealand is privately owned and every time landowners choose to do this, it is a generous gift to the whole of New Zealand,” said Bruce. “The land is protected forever, for future generations to enjoy, and will continue to provide a refuge for native species.”

“This amazing milestone is made possible by all landowners who have made the commitment to protect these sorts of special pieces of land.”

Trevor Thompson and Toby McDonald inside 'The Gorge' covenant

QEII regional representative Trevor Thompson said the new covenant is a great addition to the places protected by QEII.

“The Gorge has provided a safe haven for vegetation, including Olearia gardneri, which is one of New Zealand’s rarest plants, and a significant number of mature Kōwhai, drawing in tūī and bellbirds from all over.”

“The McDonalds have also protected the last rimu on the farm, which is one of only a few remaining in the district and they really enjoy knowing that it will be looked after.”