Aratu looks to engage with community
A change of ownership in mid-2019 has seen Aratu Forests Limited take a new direction to further its aim to be recognised as the most responsible, effective and efficient forest manager on the East Coast.
The company is now owned by New Forests, an Australian-based, international and sustainable forestry investment manager.
Aratu Forests CEO Ian Brown says that one of the focus areas is the social and cultural environment in which the company operates. In a practical sense this will mean greater involvement and consultation with the local community, he says.
“Traditionally forestry has shied away from too much involvment with local communities. We want to turn that around because as a large land owner we have to have the social license to operate. We have a lot of neighbours and what we do has an effect on the local community,” he says.
A recent example of this was the impact of the recent floods near Tolaga Bay when a landslide and subsequent debris flow from a number of forests in the area affected the locals.
Ian says Aratu Forests learned a great deal from the incident and is intent on restoring trust with the community.
“We did a social impact study afterwards and have put many things into place already,” he says.
One of these things was the creation of a new role within the company of Community Liaison Manager. This person will report directly to Ian and the aim is to learn about community concerns and ideas, which Aratu Forests could implement to mitigate concerns.
Ian also wants to be able to show locals what forestry is really about.
“At the moment the community is largely excluded from the forest. We want to take them in there, show them what we are doing,” he says.
Aratu Forests Limited is one of the largest forestry estates in Gisborne and a significant contributor to the regional economy.
It manages around 27,000 hectares of radiata pine plantation on 35,000 hectares of freehold, forest rights and leasehold land.
Ian says that through structured investment in land and assets Aratu Forests has managed to build a high-yielding and sustainable forest and the aim is to continue to improve on this.
“Typically forests that attract investors don’t look far beyond the first rotation. We look long-term and this influences the decisions we make. We want a consistent and sustainable business.”
One visible result of this is the company’s focus on sustainable practices to ensure the value of its assets grows over time. This involves improving growing stock and soil and protecting key ecological assets such as rare, threatened and endangered species (RTES). “All staff and contractors are provided with information on the RTES they are most likely to encounter within the estate.
“On an annual basis they are refreshed of the contents and the importance of protecting RTES.
“As part of this, staff and contractors are encouraged to report all sightings of the actual and potential RTEs they see while working within the estate,” explains Ian.
This focus on sustainability has also seen the company work side by side with local community groups to protect the environment.
“We don’t want to just give money – it’s about being involved in a practical sense and working alongside the local communities in which we exist so together we can enhance the environment and build trust.”
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