Raglan ris­ing

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.

Element - - Contents - By So­phie Bar­clay

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.”

Fred Licht­wark

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!”

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