5 Nov 2015

Healthy streams - healthy harbour

From Our Changing World, 9:06 pm on 5 November 2015

By Alison Ballance

“There’s about 600 kilometres of fences, 1.4 million plants. It’s all about water quality, more whitebait fritters, more snapper fillets. And it’s worked.”
Fred Lichtwark, Whaingaroa Harbour Care

View across stream with native plantings to cattle grazing in the background

Native plantings provide shade and food for the native fish that live in the stream, and two-wire electric fences keep the beef cattle safely in their paddocks. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Farmers David Peacocke and Craig Rowlandson stand next to plantings along a stream on David's farm.

Farmers David Peacocke and Craig Rowlandson next to plantings along a stream on David's farm. The plantings are about 10-years old, and are fenced to keep cattle out. The stream flows from Mount Karioi, in the background, down to the harbour at Raglan. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Beef farmer David Peacocke says that about 14 years, ago, when he bought a farm near the Waikato settlement of Raglan, cattle would have been grazing the stream banks and drinking from them. Today, the streams on the farm are securely fenced off from the livestock by two-wire electric fences and the 10-year old riparian planting is tall, lush and providing shade for the stream and good habitat for native birds and fishes. David did the fencing, and paid the not-for-profit nursery Whaingaroa Harbour Care to provide the eco-sourced native plants and the plant them in the ground. David also put in a reticulated water supply so that his stock had a good water supply away from the stream.

This co-operation between farmer and Fred Lichtwark and his Harbour Care team is a ‘recipe’ that has been used successfully for more than 20 years in the catchment around Raglan’s harbour, and as local farmers have seen how successfully it has worked on their neighbour’s farms they have been keen to follow suit.

Neighbouring farmer Craig Rowlandson is another local farmer who is a keen supporter of the Harbour Care group. He, too, has fenced off the streams on his farm and nearly finished planting them.

Retiring streams and waterways from farms, and planting them out with native species, is a basic tenet of environmental management, but few catchments around New Zealand have been as successful as Raglan, where Fred reckons about 60% of the streams are now fenced.

Fred says that 20 years ago Whaingaroa Harbour was in a terrible state – the harbour was full of thick smelly sediment, dead animal carcasses washed up on the shore, and the fishing was terrible. Now, he says, the water flowing into the head of the harbour is clean and silt-free, the mud and animal carcasses have disappeared, and the fishing has improved markedly. Even better, the protected streams are now full of native fish, and his whitebait catching is much more successful.

Whaingaroa Harbour Care employs four workers, who collect local seed, grow up about 120,000 plants each year and plant them out. Fred says he has worked out a good basic planting plan: it includes cabbage trees and flax near the stream, with a thick band of taller manuka near the fence. The cabbage trees, he says, are good at drawing nutrients and pollutants out of the ground and water, while the long leaves of the flax sweep in the water and keep the stream bed clear of nuisance weed growth. The manuka overtop the electric fence without shorting it out, and are a good source of nectar for birds and insects.

All the men agree that ‘being green’ has made great economic sense, both for them as individuals and for the wider community. David and Craig say they now farm more intensively on less land and make more money, while Fred says everyone has benefited from a cleaner harbour, which has attracted growing numbers of visitors and is boosting the local economy.

Fred Lichtwark and his dog at the Whaingaroa Harbour Care nursery,

Fred Lichtwark at the Whaingaroa Harbour Care nursery, which produces 120,000 plants a year. The stream behind has also been planted with native trees. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

The wider picture for New Zealand waterways is not so optimistic. The recently released Enviroment Aotearoa 2015 State of the Environment Report says that many streams, rivers and lakes are in poor condition, with intensive farming getting much of the blame.