Labour of Love
Suzan Craig’s years of gently nursing Tahi sanctuary back to life prove an affection for nature is always reciprocated
When Suzan Craig and her team at Tahi in New Zealand harvest Manuka honey, they leave behind one box per hive for the bees. “Very few producers do this because you’re giving away something you could sell,” says Craig. “But they love their own food because it’s filled with the pollen, nectar and nutrients they need.” The bees seem to respect this gesture and, in turn, the keepers hardly ever need to wear gloves. “Happy, healthy hives lead to good honey, too.”
The ethos of reciprocated love runs through Craig’s sanctuary, situated in a remote corner of the country’s North Island. Since buying the then-neglected cattle farm in 2004, she’s planted more than 300,000 indigenous trees, restored 75 hectares of wetlands and installed dams to replenish water levels. The results have been dramatic. More than 50 species of bird have returned alongside native fish, lizards and insects not seen since European settlers decimated the forests. And all profits go back to what she calls the three Cs – community, culture and conservation.
Craig herself grew up in New Zealand and spent much of her childhood rehabilitating land with her father, one of the country’s foremost conservation experts. After moving to London to work as a city trader two decades ago, she longed to return. “I wanted my children to have a real sense of place,” she says. The first big indicator it was working emerged when many birds returned by themselves. Her favourite is the fantail, whose tail is folded into flaps but spreads out wide when foraging. “When you’re walking, they’ll fly up behind you, as if they’re coming to talk.”
Today, Tahi employs around 40 people, and, alongside producing honey, it welcomes guests to stay in three purpose-built bungalows. Soon, she’s set to launch a skincare range that comes in sustainable packaging. “Of course, I have lots of ultimate goals,” Craig concludes. “But we have to be patient because we’re working with nature. We plan 10 years in advance – but in a lot of ways you could say we’re preparing for the next 100, too.”