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Forgotten Flyer Gets Reserve Name

Sixty school children will be planting about 200 native trees on Monday 22 May in a reserve now correctly named after the forgotten "Flying Farmer."

The reserve is now called the Ernle Clark Reserve, off Ernlea Terrace, Cashmere. How the reserve became known as Ernlea is a mystery but the reserve has recently had its name changed to honour Leonard Ernle Clark whose family owned a large tract of land in the Cashmere area. Charles Clark, the grandfather of Ernle Clark, arrived at Lyttelton in 1856 on the Egmont. In 1862 he bought 16 hectares near the Heathcote River and bounded by Colombo Street and Cashmere Road. He called the property Thorrington and the family owned it until it was sold in 1979. Some of the original plantings still remain. Ernle Clark (pronounced Ernlee) was farming at Waikari when he sailed to England for a holiday in mid-1936 with his widowed mother and brother who lived there. He had learnt to fly with the Canterbury Aero Club from 1934. While in England he bought himself a single-engine Percival Gull. He decided to fly the plane home for the shearing season and took off in October 1936. He was dubbed the "flying farmer" in Britain and he arrived at Wigram Airfield in November 1936. He was just the second person after Jean Batten to fly solo from England to New Zealand and only the fifth to fly solo across the Tasman. Up to 20,000 people greeted him at Wigram but as time passed Clark became the forgotten flier. He was a shy, modest man with little to say after his journey. He shunned the limelight and never made another long-distance solo flight but continued flying. He served with the Royal Air Force in World War Two and, as a squadron leader, was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Ernle Clark died in 1964, aged 58. Although the Christchurch City Council has changed the name of the reserve to honour Ernle Clark there are no plans to change the name of the Lower Cashmere street that leads to the reserve. The planting of native trees by 60 pupils of Thorrington Primary School on 22 May at 9.30am is part of a project to mark the Millennium. It is a Turning Point 2000 project, along with the City Council's Parks Unit, to support "the re-invigoration of the indigenous bio-diversity within Christchurch." About 12,000 native trees will be planted in six blocks - about 2000 at most sites - around the city and the project - Native Trees Please! - is designed to attract a greater abundance and variety of native wildlife, such as birds, reptiles, insects and snails. The primary aim is to develop a living museum of plant life and associated ecosystems commemorating what existed in Christchurch in earlier times. Native Trees Please! will involve school children and community groups in the planting and maintenance of the sites.

The planting by Thorrington Primary School will start at 9.30am.

Further information: Anne Cosson: 372 2510.

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