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The Men of the Trees Southland Inc

 Record Group
Identifier: A0538


  • Majority of material found within 1958 - 2015

The Men of the Trees

Founded by English conservationist Dr. Richard ‘St. Barbe’ Baker in 1924 after his work in Kenya with Chief Josiah Njonjo, and the creation of Watu wa Miti (People of the Trees). St. Barbe was a former forestry officer in the Colonial Service and was employed to issue timber felling licences in Africa. He journeyed through the rain forests to assess the annual increment of trees with commercial value. He would never issue licences for cutting other than on a sustained yield basis. On one journey through the bamboo forest and to the northern highlands of Kenya, he came to the southern fringe of the Sahel, where the Kikuya people practised 'slash and burn' agriculture, a practice that resulted in sparse scrubland, and land (not fertile to begin with) too infertile to produce crops. They never replanted trees to restore wornout soil. Thus was born the idea to form an organisation dedicated to the planting of trees. Discussions with tribal elders were held and they agreed that trees were needed, and that the way to improve their land, was to plant them themselves. The local custom was to organise a Great Gance before beginning a community task. Before the dance began, St. Barbe chose 50 voluteers who would become the first 'Watu Wa Miti - 'Men of The Trees", and who were required to take a solemn promise 'to serve the principles of planting and caring for trees'. Each kept the promise and the secret password Twahammwe (We are all one). Each dedicated his days to raising seedlings and to planting them out to make new forests to protect their homelands. The first Great Dance drew the participation of 3,000 Moran Warriors.

Members of the Men of the Trees were committed 'to serve the principles of planting and caring for trees' (to save their land from turning into deserts,) by raising seedlings to plant out to make new forests and to protect fragile soils. The movement eventually spread world wide, drawing farmers, foresters, business and professional people. It was renamed the International Tree Foundation in 1992.

The Inaugural Meeting to form The Men of the Trees, Southland, was held in the AA Meeting Room on 17 May 1958, with Mr Ivon Wilson presiding and Mr H.C.Gimblett acting as Secretary. There were 40 attendendees plus 11 apologies received.

Prominent Members: * ALEX CAMPBELL, a Dunedin member, compiler of the groups history. * PHILIP BARLING, a Dunedin businessman, who developed his home surroundings at 'Glenfalloch' by extensive tree planting. He invited St.Barbe Baker to address fellow Dunedin business men, profesionals and farmers, after which MoTT Dunedin was formed. * Dr.E.STUBBS G.P., OAMARU - oversaw the North Otago Tree Planting Conference. * NEIL BARR * ALLEN CALVERT, President NZ Farm Foresters Association 1969-71, and Secretary ot The MoTTs (Southland ) Inc. 1962-1982. A Time Line of his involvement is included. * DAVE MILLIGAN, Dipton, and DONALD MATHESON, Lumsden. Dave Milligan wrote the notes included, concerning Farm Forestry and MoTTs in Southland. DONALD LAMONT wrote the notes to describe the roles taken and contribution made by individual members, which are filed after Milligan's notes.

The group donated $2,500 to the Gore Kids Hub Project in 2016 and $18,119 to the Department of Conservation, Invercargill, to be used for the Pourakino Reserve Development. Their last meeting was held on the 17th of March 2015.

- Notes by E. Easton -

See Bibliography for References


2 box(es) (Boxes 1 - 2)

Language of Materials



'Men of the Trees Southland history [Beginnings and general material]' Compiled by Alex Campbell.
Reference: Archive Item S19350002
  • This item contains the history, meeting minutes, correspondence and news clippings relating to this organisation.
  • Lists of Presidents and Secretaries 1958-199, Planting School Programmes and lists of Attendees have also been included.
  • Drawn plans showing layouts of David Milligan Part, Dipton and Ivon Wilson Park, both Commemorative Plantings by MoTTs.
  • Notes about the 50th year celebrations in 2008.
  • Includes photos taken on Planting Day 31/8/02 at the Waihopai Flood Bank Project.
  • Notes on St. Barbes visits to, and involvement with, the NZ M0TTs, plus correspondence with him and tributes on the occasion of his death
The Men of the Trees Southland Inc
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Invercargill City Libraries and Archives Repository

50 Dee Street
Invercargill Southland 9810 New Zealand