Brought together in 2020 by a deep desire to improve the health of the Waimatā River, the farmer-led Waimatā Catchment Restoration Project is making a positive impact to its environment and wider rural community.
Landowners in the catchment recognised that water quality in the river is compromised and wanted to take steps to make change to improve the situation.
“We’re a collaborative group and our kaupapa is aimed at achieving conservation, recreation and community education outcomes. We work with the community, landowners, iwi, education facilities and other stakeholders with the aim of restoring the health of the catchment and the Waimatā River,” says Laura Watson from the Waimatā Catchment Group.
“Many of the farmer landowners are from multi-generational sheep and beef stations in the catchment. There were no regulatory requirements that were driving landowners – just a desire to care for the environment.”
The group has planted over 60,000 native plants along the Waimatā River, tributaries and within wetlands; fenced 6 kilometres of Waimatā and tributary riverbanks from sheep and cattle; protected 19.1 hectares of riparian areas which includes areas of regenerating native bush; and planted 600 poplar and willow conservation trees on eroding land on the sheep and beef farms and on small holder blocks.
“We have initiatives like seed sourcing from within the catchment to ensure the distribution and survival of our existing native species.
“A community water quality monitoring programme has been set up and we have commenced wetland restoration on two properties which is part of our wider wetland restoration project aiming to support water quality and the reintroduction of pāteke into the catchment.
“Also, one of our unique mud volcanoes has been fenced from cattle and sheep and we continue to work on restoring it’s unusual biodiversity,” says Watson.
The group is passionate about supporting science and research. They have partnered with the University of Auckland and its ‘Let the River Speak’ research programme to take part in an ongoing study into the Waimatā Catchment.
Watson says, “Collaboration is a strong theme for us. We acknowledge the importance of actively engaging with mana whenua of the catchment – Te Whanau a Iwi (Te Aitanga a Mahaki), Ngāti Oneone and Te Aitanga a Hauiti to work with them to restore their relationship and kaitiakitanga role within the catchment.
“To those who are thinking of setting up a catchment group, make sure you engage with your local community early, find those key people who are going to help drive the project and ensure it is a success.”
In collaboration with Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), the catchment group held Farm Environment Plan workshops which led to the completion of Farm Environment Plans for eight landowners and there are four more in progress. They have also held multiple community workshops on topics like climate change, biodiversity, riparian management and more.
“We have had a huge amount of support from B+LNZ right from our very first community meeting held at our local hall. Apart from running multiple workshops with B+LNZ, we have gained some very valuable information from the B+LNZ catchment online workshops held in 2021, it was so inspiring hearing from other catchment groups around New Zealand,” says Watson.
The Waimatā catchment group has many plans for its future. They are starting on a journey to engage with mana whenua and hope to hold a series of wānanga and hikoi in the catchment to enable whanau and hapū members to reconnect with the catchment.
“We have been working in Gisborne City with enthusiastic community and mana whenua hapū members who are part of the waka ama groups that use the river as their main training grounds. We are excited at the possibility of supporting them to re-engage as kaitiaki of the river,” explains Watson.
With the Waimatā Catchment showing signs of severe erosion in many locations, the group see wetland restoration as a practical solution.
“Wetland restoration can help with holding sediment in the upper catchment areas and we are excited to be working with the University of Auckland researchers to identify priority areas for wetland restoration to support river health.”
The group’s intensive predator control project includes native bush protection and wetland restoration projects.
“We are hoping to be successful in being approved as relocation sites for brown teal/pāteke and kākāriki. We are currently undertaking bat monitoring, so we’re hoping to expand the intensively trapped area to be more than 5,000 hectares if bats are found living within the catchment.”
“Two large production forestry owners have recently joined the catchment group. We look forward to working with them on pest and predator control projects, alternative planting species and sediment retention initiatives.
The group is extremely thankful for its funding support from Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation.
“We have also had a huge amount of encouragement, support and practical advice from Hamiora Gibson at NZ Landcare Trust. But, at the end of the day we wouldn’t have a catchment group or a project like this without the support of our local landowners, who are the ones who are out there on the ground undertaking some incredible environmental projects on their properties,” says Watson.
B+LNZ’s Catchment Community Programme
B+LNZ’s Catchment Community programme is designed to support farmers in taking a leadership role to establish or run catchment groups.