18 Mar 2012

Moves to control cow pollution 'not anti-farmer'

9:00 am on 18 March 2012

The Northland man whose river patrols have prompted plans to form a national network of river care groups says the move is not anti-farmer.

This week, the OECD issued a report saying member nations, including New Zealand, have made little progress in reducing water contamination from farming in the last decade.

Millan Ruka's reports on cows polluting rivers near Whangarei have attracted national attention, with interested groups now set to meet in Wellington this week to set up a lobby group.

Mr Ruka says the organisation plans to be pro-river, not anti-farmer.

"Farmers are the backbone of the country, that's for sure," he says. "We need them - that's what's keeping us going during these hard times.

"But we've just got to get them to recognise that...all rivers in their back yard are part of life. If we don't have those rivers, we've got nothing."

A Northland dairy farmer who has fenced his cows off from the Wairua River says farmers would welcome community assistance in protecting the environment.

Ben Smith, who farms on the Hikurangi plain north of Whangarei, says he has spent about $40,000 on fencing and drinking troughs in order to keep his herd out of the river.

He says the regeneration of native shrubs on the riverbanks has been impressive in the three years since he fenced - but he'd do a lot more planting if he had some willing volunteers to help.

Mr Smith says farmers who have resisted fencing their riverbanks could be brought onside with more practical help.

"The more people we get present on farms," he says, "the more environment we can sustain. I'd love to have 10 or so people for a week or a couple of weeks a year to come in and help me do some native tree transfers and some plantings."