‘Urban forest’ in Southland town celebrated

St Michael's (Lumsden) Urban Forest


A liturgy for “The Season of Creation” was held in the small Catholic Church of St Michael on Forest Street in Lumsden, in rural Southland, on the afternoon of Sunday, October 4. This was for everyone in the region to celebrate the success of the St Michael’s Church Urban Forest Project. A wide variety of northern Southland people were present, as was Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley.

                         Mary Ryan

The driving force behind St Michael’s forest was a local parishioner, Mary Ryan, who has cared for St Michael’s church for many years. Some years ago, Mrs Ryan found that mowing the grass on the land surrounding the church was becoming onerous. So, without episcopal permission, she began planting native vegetation on the land bordering the church. She says it took three years and it began 15 years ago.

According to Mrs Ryan, preparing the land was lengthy and, at times, difficult. The site has been used as an unofficial waste dump by locals, and domestic and green waste had made the land “terrible”. Mrs Ryan and her family are very grateful to local people Nigel Shirley and Peter Main, who bog-disced and levelled this area.

Everything Mrs Ryan planted was native. Plantings included kahikatea, totara, and various native beeches. On June 22 this year, Mrs Ryan, along with her daughter Clare, Jenny Campbell and Matt Coffey, inspected the forest.

They were astounded at how it had flourished. Mrs Ryan said, “We were all thrilled and amazed at the effect the forest had on us!” There was plenty of food and shelter for birds, and “bellbirds were singing too!”

The St Michael’s urban forest has become a leader in the effort by the Lumsden Re-afforestation Trust to restore native vegetation to the township. The trust is also supporting efforts to ensure the protection of the rare native fish, Galaxias Gollumoides (Gollum Galaxias), which live and spawn in the stream running just below St Michael’s church. The fish are rare, protected and threatened.

So, it was decided to hold a special liturgy to celebrate the success of the St Michael’s forest project.

Mrs Ryan said, “Clare led the liturgy and opened the gathering, welcoming everyone and acknowledging tangata whenua, greeting visitors who had travelled especially to be there. Clare said a short karakia to recognise the occasion”.

The first speaker was Willie Solomon, the son of a Maori family, which was appropriate given the links between the first people in Aotearoa and the land.

The second speaker was Daniel Jones, who, with wife Josie, are establishing a community native garden in Lumsden. One day a week, it is open to all comers as they teach about native plants and ecology. Mr Jones explained this, and their wish to protect the stream where he had discovered the rare Gollum Galaxias mentioned above. The thrill of having such a privilege at the bottom of the church garden was greeted with gasps of incredulity.

A third speaker was farmer Peter MacDonald of Caroline Valley. He has a 16hectare covenant on his property. It has a been there for more than 20 years. The aim was to safeguard the biodiversity in the remaining native bush. Trees there are now thriving because of the protection from rabbits, possums, rats and wandering stock.

Chris Henderson of Lintley, just on the outer Lumsden area, spoke of the need to provide greening among our cities and towns.

The last speaker was Jesse Bythell, the Southland representative of the QEII Trust. She spoke about biodiversity and the necessary components present in a healthy living forest. In St Michael’s forest, there is already a soft floor, active and full of fungi and bacteria, preparing nutrients for the growing trees.

Following the speakers, the Thanksgiving Service for the Season of Creation started.

It was an ecumenical service, and the contributors were varied. A poem by Hildegard of Bingen in praise of the Trinity featured. A Pope Francis prayer concluded the service.

Mrs Ryan said that climate change and its effects are “powerfully’ explained by Pope Francis. She said, “As Catholic people, we need to set an example and Laudato Si’ tells us that we must talk about it. Everyone has a role to play no matter how small.”

Lumsden High School has accepted 15 sheets of statements regarding climate change and environmental ecology. St Peter’s College in Gore will be offered information sheets as well.

The information sheets have statements from The Earth Charter and Laudato Si’, and from prominent speakers who raise their voices in favour of endangered species.

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