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Looking to the future . . . Part of the land next to the Whitehorse monument that will be reverted to native bush after the pine forest had been milled. Inset: Gary and Ann Dennison are creating an ecosanctuary in the Hunter Hills close to Waimate. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED AND GUS PATTERSON

The prominent land next to Waimate’s Whitehorse monument is being reverted to its original form – native bush.

Waimate residents Gary and Ann Dennison are establishing an ecosanctuary above their historic Te Kiteroa homestead – and they are gifting it to the Waimate community.

The Dennisons purchased the hill block in 1987 while visiting Waimate from Iraq, where they were based at the time.

The land was bare, but, with the help of the community, the couple has planted 25,000 native seedlings over the years.

Mr and Mrs Dennison have spent time living in several different countries, including Singapore, Fiji and Thailand.

But Waimate has become their “little slice of paradise”.

Mr Dennison, an aeronautical engineer, is originally from the South Canterbury town and Mrs Dennison from London.

They describe themselves as busy “retirees who refuse to retire”.

The couple is also passionate about protecting and enhancing the native flora and fauna of their land as a gift for future generations to enjoy.

They recently set up the Point Bush Ecosanctuary Trust and transferred the ownership of the 90ha hill block to the trust.

“We have owned it for 30-plus years and we are at retirement age,” Mrs Dennison said.

“We want to see that it is in perpetuity.”

The idea is to create a predator-free environment and Mr and Mrs Dennison would like to see kiwis, weka and takahe join the kereru, tui and bellbirds that already reside in the bush above their homestead.

“To get birds like kiwis, you need to have a proven track record of no predators,” Mr Dennison said.

“The initial push is for a perimeter fence for an introduced pest-free area, to keep out the things that will damage trees.”

The biggest pest was the wallaby, he said.

“Some of the plants on the wallaby runs are totally stripped.”

Native bush established on the land in 1989 was very successful, and had even spread up gullies where it was not planted, he said.

The Dennisons also established an exotic pine plantation that was milled in 2013.

The first ecosanctuary phase is already under way.

Foresters have been employed to cull all the regrowth pines that had shot up in the area where the forestry block had been.

Mr and Mrs Dennison wanted to involve the community in the project, and were reaching out to local groups and schools.

“Are you an eco-warrior or eco-worrier?” Mrs Dennison said.

“If you are sitting there saying ‘I don’t like what is going on’, get involved.”

They believed the ecosanctuary would benefit the community in many ways.

“Recreational wellness is a big part of what we want to contribute,” Mrs Dennison said.

“Taking the time to walk through the bush and see the views is healthy.”

Children had come to visit and take part in workshops, and schools had expressed interest in establishing a working relationship, Mr Dennison said.

“There are kids who came out who are children of people who helped with the planting in 1989,” he said.

To keep up the interest in local ecology, the couple organises monthly talks, walks and workshops.

On Sunday, they are hosting a walk along the Whitehorse Walkway and talk of Waimate’s natural history

For those wanting to hike uphill to the Whitehorse Lookout, meet at the end of Point Bush Road at noon.

For those who prefer a flatter option, meet at the Whitehorse Lookout car park at noon for a walk along the Link Track.

For more information about the ecosanctuary project, check out their Facebook page facebook.com/theecoprojectwaimate.