July 21, 2022

Our People: Rural Design – Changing the landscape

Another look into one of our partners, the Team at Rural Design. 

Having grown to become one of the larger native plant nurseries in the country, the late Bill Worsfold would be justifiably proud of how his family have grown his legacy – that of Rural Design. 

Bill and his wife Bev were advocating the planting of riparian areas and water catchment protection with native revegetation to protect and enhance waterways as far back as the 1970s – a legacy of Bill’s parents Bill’s parents, Ham and Josephine, who were all for protecting and enhancing large areas of indigenous bush and wetlands.  

Despite many local farmers being perplexed by the concept and not seeing the need for it, Bill pushed on with his instincts. 

It is ironic, says son Heath, Director and Business Development Manager of Rural Design, that his father’s instincts have come full circle. And that his vision for a healthier Kaipara Harbour and surrounding waterways is coming to fruition under the Kaipara Moana Remediation Programme. 

Heath and the Rural Design team have been working alongside KMR for quite some time and providing advice and assisting with planting projects. 

“Our Whānau has a strong affinity with the whenua around here.” 

In fact, the family settled on the 175ha home farm that is now headquarters for Rural Design back in 1860. 

“We have always had close links to local Maori and the Kaipara long before KMR came about our family would talk about replenishing the mauri, the life force of the Kaipara Harbour frequently in conversation.” 

Going back decades Bill and the family were fencing off gullies and erosion areas of the farm to combat the issue of sediment and dissipate water flow, a concern that was close to his heart. 

So when KMR came about, Heath and his brothers jumped at the chance work alongside Iwi and become part of the KMR mahi. He also brought NZ Plant Producers (NZPPI) (the industry body for plant nurseries and related businesses) into the picture to help out. 

Along with other local plant nurseries, Rural Design and NZPPI assisted with providing advice around the capacity of nurseries (how many plants they could produce per year) and whether the existing nursery sector could meet the projected capacity requirements for the KMR project. 

Interestingly, Rural Design was borne out of a desire to change attitudes towards use – that was back in 1984 with Bill and Bev at the helm and in partnership Dennis Scott – just as KMR is doing now. 

Heath says Rural Design has diversified substantially over the years and now offers land-use advisory, ecological advice, plant supply and landscape implementation services, specialising in high end soft landscaping and large-scale revegetation projects. 

And despite only establishing the Rural Design native plant nursery, eight years ago, it is now one of the larger native nurseries in the country with 60 fulltime employees and five part-timers helping grow 2.5 million native plants annually. 

Key to the expansion has been the recent construction of an extensive 120,000 cubic metre dam covering 2ha to provide year-round water security, something critical to the business. Bordering the dam is a new nursery and combined the new assets cover 3ha. The entire nursery spans 7ha. 

“We have put all profits from Rural Design the past ten years back into the business and that’s why we have grown so much. We are probably at capacity with plant numbers in the nursery now so efficiency is the key now innovation from automation, to building more sheds and buying in the products to blend our own potting mixes and looking at ways to reduce our environmental footprint within our organisation.” 

Meantime, Heath and the team remain focussed on employing local whenever possible, with many of the Rural Design whānau already having strong connections and spiritual bonds to the Kaipara. 

“Historically, the Kaipara District’s tangata whenua viewed themselves as Kaitiakitanga (caretakers and guardians of the land). Land was not owned by an individual, but by the hapū or iwi.” 

Heath says the Māori world view was based on conserving the environment for future generations – a vision shared by Rural Design. 

That concept is an important part of the business and Heath believes it is vital for current generations to continue, or in some cases, re-establish the role of guardianship of the land, rather than continually expecting the land to provide favours. 

With the nursery busier than ever undertaking seed collection, propagation, potting and maintaining plants, ensuring quality stock is on hand always will become even more important as the KMR project ramps up. 

“I encourage farmers to get on board with KMR to boost their land and the environment and protect our waterways. There is a diverse team to work with in KMR and this is an opportunity farmers might not otherwise have had.” 

With Rural Design’s eight-person strong planting crews capable of planting 10,000 plants a week (500 per person per day), Heath says farmers can have a positive impact on the environment very quickly by embracing the assistance KMR has on offer.” 

He is doing that himself because despite the farm being capable of carrying 450 cattle, Heath has dropped his stock numbers in recent years to 250, simply to give the land a rest. There also plans to do even more riparian planting on the farm. 

“The Kaipara Harbour is about everyone and we are pleased to be contributing in a number of ways.” 

Learn more about Rural Design and their work via https://ruraldesign.co.nz/


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