Two of the great success stories where the effects of intensive agriculture on waterways has been reversed is in the Whaingaroa Harbour, Raglan and Nelson’s Golden Bay.
Farmer-come-fisherman Fred Lichtwark says his reasons for saving Raglan’s harbour are essentially selfish. “I’m not so much of a conservationist, but we wanted more fish in the harbour, and I need quite a bit of filling!” He jokes, slapping his stomach.
Back in 1995, the harbour was choked with sediment, cockles were dying and there were “more dead cattle coming down the harbour than fish,” says Lichtwark. The expected catch was one fish every 18 hours, the lowest in New Zealand.
Lichtwark’s solution was simple. Set up a community nursery and grow and plant trees for free so landowners could help fix the problem. The Whaingaroa Harbour Care group was born, and they embarked on a project to bring life back to the harbour. The nursery was soon bursting with 10,000 plants, but no one wanted them. “It took five years before there was any interest. No farmer wanted to stand out and say ‘OK. We’ll make change’.”
So Harbour Care nursery workers formed a part of the Wainui Farm Committee along with farmers, tangata whenua and community members, planting and fencing Wainui reserve farm. By restoring waterways and removing one third of the unproductive areas (continually costing money through stock losses, drain digging and weed control) production doubled with stock numbers increasing from 70 to 140. It took five years, but local farmers on the committee witnessed the turnaround in production, and were the first to take up the challenge.
The nursery is now a fully-functioning business with four full-time employees capable of planting 1000 plants a day and about 100,000 trees a year. The resulting plants are hardy and robust, with a 95% plus success rate. Lichtwark found that if landowners were given plants for free, they didn’t value them. “We now charge farmers a dollar and the cows never get into the planting because there is a cost associated with the work.”
17 years on, with seven planted and fenced corridors complete from mountains to the sea and 30% of the catchment restored, the harbour is thriving. Riparian management has helped reduce nutrient runoff, faecal contamination and sediment loading to waterways. Riverbanks have stabilised and whitebait-spawning grounds have been recreated. Freshwater fish, koura, flounder, cockles, flocks of royal spoonbill birds, keen birdwatchers, tourists and, of course, fisherfolk, all share the benefits of restoration.
Landowners are also reaping the benefits of rising land values, better stock health, increased productivity and better fertiliser control. Protecting the waterways, says Lichtwark, can make good monetary sense. “We sell it because there is money to be made out of it by the
“I’m not so much of a conservationist, but we wanted more fish in the harbour, and I need quite a bit of filling!”
Farmer-come-fisherman Fred Lichtwark
landowners. It’s not a tree-hugging exercise, it’s simply a matter of economics.”
Lichtwark’s passion has seen him visiting communities around the country in a bid to help establish similar projects, and his commitment to sustainable land management and local communities earned him one of the six inaugral Landcare Ambassador awards in early 2012. “There is no service provider for this kind of thing around the country. Farmers have not got the time, and often the knowledge, to be planting thousands of seedlings. If there was that initiative elsewhere to provide that service you could create a business tomorrow.”
Further south in Golden Bay, harvest rates for mussel farmers declined to a mere 28% in 2004 when dangerously high bacteria levels from faecal contamination forced closure of marine farms.
The Aorere Catchment Project arose out of this tense situation, led by dairy farmers and supported by NZ Landcare Trust. Landowners have fenced and planted and reduced effluent runoff into waterways, with help from Tasman District Council, who donated fencing materials
Back in 1995, the harbour was choked with sediment, cockles were dying and there were “more dead cattle coming down the harbour than fish.”
and the Aorere Stream Care Nursery, set up by local volunteer Robyn Jones, providing plants and labour for free. The project has brought scientists and local farmers together to help solve issues specific to the Aorere Catchment, ensuring farmers spend money where it will help most. Since 2009, mussel-harvesting rates have remained at 79%. The planting has also acted as an ecological corridor for many bird species in the Kahurangi national park.
Sue Brown, a Collingwood dairy farmer and Landcare Ambassador recipient, has fenced and planted around 3km of riparian strips on her property. She says there is a paradigm shift slowly spreading through the industry, “it’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best you can all the time. And thinking about things that are bigger than just the paddock – like waterways and where the effluent is going.”
Back in Raglan, Lichtwark can directly see the impacts that the nursery has had on the environment. The expected catch has increased to two fish an hour. What does he have in store for the next 15 years, aside from sharing lessons learnt from Raglan around the country? “Plenty more fishing!”