Wilding war continues

For the millions of visitors who make Queenstown their holiday destination, the resort's scenery is effortless - but this is not so for a dedicated group of wilding pines volunteers.

The effort to remove wilding conifers, which are not native, has been and remains the subject of numerous community and regional meetings and funding proposals.

The cause recently received a $700,000 boost for the start of the current pine-removal season from a range of sources, including from the Wakatipu Department of Conservation's annual budget. To make removal easier, some basal bark backpacks have been bought, allowing volunteers to spray wilding pines with a herbicide that kills the plant.

Other removal methods include pulling out young trees by hand or using chainsaws and brush cutters.

Queenstown's Fran O'Connor regularly tackles Queenstown Hill, even with a ''bad hip'', and is taking an active role in educating children about why the trees need to be removed.

''I do it because I'm doing something for future generations for this area, which is why I'm now getting kids involved. I explain it well to them but you have got to let kids have fun at the same time.''

She has been removing wilding pines for the past 12 years and says she is lucky her employer, Nomad Safaris, allows her to use the four-wheel-drive work vehicles.

To help her, she has been given the use of one of the herbicide backpacks, which she said made the job a lot easier, although when she is with other volunteers she removes the pines by cutting the trunk or pulling them out.

If the trees were not removed properly, they were likely to grow back, she said.

''You have to go right down to the very very bottom of the tree and cut off as low to the ground as you can.''

There were several reasons for feeling so passionate about removing the trees.

''It's a pest; it's just going to take over our farmland. It also threatens our eco-system and it sours our soil - they are very antisocial.''

''It's satisfying knowing that you are actually getting rid of them.

''People say 'why do it, you won't win', but we are winning.''

''You have got to keep at it until we get rid of all the seeding trees.''

Ms O'Connor often co-ordinates volunteer expeditions and said ''a cross-section of people'' such as housewives, hotel workers, students and people passing through turned out to do the hard, physical work.

For next year, she hopes to organise a programme with local primary schools during school hours.

She has no plans to slow down.

''I've had a bad hip for 18 months and I'm still doing it.

''I'll be in a wheelchair and I'll still be doing it.''

Fellow volunteer and Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group chairman Peter Willsman said he became involved with wilding pine removal after he saw the trees rapidly overtaking the traditional New Zealand landscape.

Mr Willsman, also of Queenstown, contributes between 15-20 hours to the cause, which includes the administration side.

Physically removing the trees was ''hard work'' and volunteers needed to be ''active and reasonably fit''.

The majority of weekday volunteers were retired people, he said.

''It's one of the most satisfying things to do in the area, to conserve what we have been left to steward and look after.''