An environmental footprint to be proud of soil conservator retires after 44 years

After 44 years with the organisation soil conservator Stan Braaksma is hanging up his boots and retiring from the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Many rural properties in Kāpiti have benefited greatly from the work of Stan Braaksma over the years and while many things have changed over Stan’s career his dedication and fascination in planting anti-erosion trees and improving the environment remains prevalent.

Stan says over his time working in the land management sector he has been given the licence to ‘play’ and gain a vast amount of knowledge in his field.

“I’ve been given really good freedoms to be able to innovate and experiment in the region, giving me a lot of experience with a number of tree species. I’ve gone on to get a huge amount of skills in forestry,” Stan says.

Described as a ‘walking encyclopaedia of trees and soil types’, since starting work with the Catchment Board in 1975, Wairarapa-based Stan has planted an innumerable variety of species in his own property.

Stan was among the first to identify and initiate planting of Eucalyptus trees in the fight against erosion, alongside other species such as kowhai and his beloved willow and stands of poplar trees referred to as poles.

“Last year 24,000 poles were planted and we’re regularly getting over 90 per cent survival rates which is all because of this control of directing the planting and owning the processes.”

Greater Wellington Land Management manager David Boone says those recurring pole orders are a testament not only to Stan’s knowledge of his subject but also his commitment to providing the best possible soil conservation advice to farmers.

“There’s a need with this work to get private landowners on board in rural communities in particular, it’s basically good old fashioned people skills.”

Outside of his day job, Stan’s name is also synonymous with the Ballance Farm Environment Awards where he has served as a regional council representative and finalist judge since 2002.

In recent years that has included becoming involved in all aspects of farming, promoting everything from ‘gate to plate’ food entrants to more unusual cottage industries like judging a witloof farm.

Witloof (a lettuce leaf of Dutch origin) is a reminder of Stan’s connection to the Netherlands as the son of Dutch immigrants. However, he has preferred to plough his own path in New Zealand, and with wife Jenny last year cycled from Cape Reinga to Bluff as part of the Aotearoa Challenge.

A competitive soccer player till the age of 59, Stan intends to keep active post-retirement including maintaining farm forestry and consultancy work made possible by the skills he gained at Greater Wellington.

“I am just over-awed with the fact I’ve always been in an organisation that’s quite dynamic around change. There’s been a change of climate through the years, which means land management has had a huge role to play,” Stan says.

The soil conservation expert is well respected among his peers at Greater Wellington’s annual Christmas party last year many of his colleagues dressed up as Stan in homage to his professionalism and camaraderie on the job.

Stan will officially hang up his land management advisor’s hat on May 10.