How the project started
Our general ideas about wild land conservation were formed by organizations like the John Muir Trust, Woodland Trust, Trees for Life etc., which we supported when we were in Scotland.
When we came to Hokkaido, we found many people had a weekend/second-home cottage/cabin in the woods, rather like in Russia or Sweden. We liked the idea, and occasionally went to see land offered by property agents, however we didn't see any places we liked. The land was often laid out in small plots like an urban development with utilities provided, and it was expensive. The 'forests' all turned out to be plantations of non-native Japanese larch. Really beautiful places seemed be off-limits within national parks or national forests.
After looking for more than a year we felt we were wasting our time. We decided to give the agents a list of our conditions. If they didn't meet them we wouldn't bother any more with the idea. We decided we were looking for around 3 to a maximum of 20 hectares in an area of central Hokkaido between Shimukappu (Kamikawa) and Rikubetsu (Tokachi), near Daisetsuzan National Park. It would be a small-scale, personal project for our own pleasure, more of a wild flower garden than any kind of nature reserve.
On 27 February 2009, just five days after I'd written the draft, one of Masumi's colleagues told her about a mountain area that was being advertised for sale on the net. This was Maruyama. Although 50 hectares was much bigger than we were considering, we immediately became interested. A week later we met the owner in Sapporo, and the following week we hired two snowmobiles and some guides to take us up to see the land. We soon realized that Maruyama would be ideal for a public project. The mountain was a distinct topographical feature, and it had a natural, mixed forest with no plantations. Moreover it was easily accessible by road and train, close to a ski resort.
We consulted various forestry people, and finally made an offer to buy the land in May. Unfortunately the owner didn't give us an answer, so after a long time waiting we withdrew our offer. By that time, we'd developed a detailed conservation project plan, so we started to look for an alternative location. This wasn't successful, and by the autumn we decided to try Maruyama again. At first our enquiries were unsuccessful, but in December we heard from the local government that the land had been bought by a lumber company, which we traced to the city of Asahikawa. We thought we'd give it one last try and wrote a rather audacious letter to the company, claiming 'Maruyama is worth more to us to save, than it is to you to clearcut and reduce to pulp'.
At the time I didn't rate our chances high, but when Masumi phoned the company (with much trepidation), she found the boss was friendly and helpful, if astonished by our letter. He agreed to sell, providing his 'expenses' were well covered. We agreed a price and concluded the sale on 26 February, exactly one year after we first heard about it.
Simon Holledge, Hokkaido, 22 April 2010