Cen­tral Otago plant­ing project

SARAH CAMERON finds a ru­ral com­mu­nity tak­ing the col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to­wards en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion.

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Atwo-year plant­ing project is un­der­way in West Otago to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity in the Pom­a­haka River, driven by ru­ral landown­ers, a swim­ming pool com­mit­tee and a lo­cal plant nurs­ery.

The restora­tion project is one of many be­ing un­der­taken around the coun­try, shar­ing the com­mon goal of es­tab­lish­ing ri­par­ian na­tive vege­ta­tion to help fil­ter out sed­i­ment and nu­tri­ents be­fore they en­ter the wa­ter­ways.

Fam­ily-owned plant nurs­ery, Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries in Ta­panui is one of the ma­jor play­ers in the Pom­a­haka ri­par­ian project. Since the ini­tia­tive’s launch in June 2017, the nurs­ery has sup­plied the more than 24,000 plant seedlings that will be planted along the 4,000km of wa­ter­ways in the com­ing months.

“The nurs­ery got in­volved as a re­sult of a dis­cus­sion with West Otago dairy farmer Lloyd McCall, chair of the Pom­a­haka Wa­ter Care Group (PWCG),” says Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries’ Re­becca Hughes. “When Lloyd then pre­sented the ini­tia­tive to lo­cal farm­ers, we soon re­alised that the de­mand for plants would cre­ate a sup­ply is­sue. Sim­ply put, there were not enough of the right kind of plants. So we started talk­ing about man­ag­ing the pro­duc­tion of a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of na­tives and our in­volve­ment went from there.”

As well as work­ing closely with the PWCG and the ru­ral com­mu­nity, the nurs­ery works with the West Otago Swim­ming Pool Fundrais­ing Com­mit­tee, who is rais­ing funds for a new roof for their lo­cal pool. While Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries sup­plies the tools and the space, the Fundrais­ing Com­mit­tee pro­vides the labour, as Re­becca ex­plains.

“It’s def­i­nitely a joint project. We sup­ply the seeds, the pots and pot­ting mix, the glasshouse space and also our ex­per­tise. The pool com­mit­tee do­nates labour to weed, space and

re­pot, tend­ing the plants un­til they reach a larger size than a stan­dard ri­par­ian plant – we give them an ex­tra year in prime grow­ing con­di­tions.”

Re­becca says the up­take from ru­ral landown­ers has been “fan­tas­tic”, with farm­ers com­mit­ting to pur­chase the plants. A de­posit of $2 per plant is paid, with a fur­ther

$3 paid over the fol­low­ing cou­ple of years. Of that, $2 goes to the pool com­mit­tee to cover their costs.

“Com­mu­nity groups and lo­cal busi­ness work­ing to­gether of­fer sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits,” adds Lloyd.

“Each brings unique inkind con­tri­bu­tions for the col­lec­tive good. Farm­ers are tak­ing on the re­spon­si­bil­ity to make a dif­fer­ence to our wa­ter­ways and a fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment to what will be a long-term project for im­proved wa­ter qual­ity, sta­ble ero­sion and in­creased bio­di­ver­sity.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, as these plants are grown for lo­cal con­di­tions and are a larger grade, they of­fer a greater strike rate in ri­par­ian zones and a bet­ter re­turn on in­vest­ment.”

To en­sure the longevity of the plant­ing, Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries is plan­ning a se­ries of work­shops to help the vol­un­teers and farm­ers max­imise a plant’s start in life.

“We will teach them about op­ti­mum plant­ing depths, plant com­bi­na­tions and how to suc­cess­fully plant and man­age ri­par­ian buf­fers on their prop­er­ties. From the va­ri­ety of na­tives avail­able, we’ll also show them how to choose the best plant for the en­vi­ron­ment; whether it’s a bank that needs sta­bil­is­ing or shrubs and grasses fur­ther back – it de­pends on the lay of the land,” says Re­becca.

Plant­ing is due for au­tumn 2018 and on­go­ing wa­ter qual­ity mea­sure­ment and as­sess­ment will be un­der­taken. Based on other sim­i­lar projects and a large body of re­search, a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment to wa­ter qual­ity is ex­pected.

“In smaller ru­ral towns it is im­por­tant to be in­no­va­tive and work to­gether as a com­mu­nity. We are lucky that there are so many in­no­va­tive, for­ward-think­ing stake­hold­ers in this project.”

ABOVE: Mem­bers of the West Otago Pool Com­mit­tee pre­pare cut­tings. Chris Hughes, Blue Moun­tain Nurs­eries’ Gen­eral Man­ager, sows seeds.

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