By Jeff Neems, Communications Advisor
When Peter Roberts looks out from his home overlooking the Firth of Thames, he can gaze across the internationally significant wetland he and his neighbours are striving to conserve.
He is the chairman of the Western Firth Catchment Group Trust, which recently received $50,000 from the DOC Community Fund.
It’s valuable funding for the group of committed residents and landowners in and around Pukorokoro-Miranda, on the western shores of the Firth of Thames, near a wetland identified as one of the world’s most significant under the 1971 Ramsar Convention, and whose bird inhabitants are detailed at the nearby Miranda Shorebird Centre.
On surrounding land, a ‘Forest to Firth’ or ‘Mountains to Sea’ conservation project is underway to restore the Firth waterway home to many important shorebird species – including the threatened bar-tailed godwit, a wader bird which spends the New Zealand summer on the Firth, and can complete migrations of more than 20,000 kms every year.
Through DOC’s community funding the Trust can continue with important conservation work including riparian planting to improve the quality of water running into the Firth, and possum control in the area.
Through scientific partnerships – including the Living Water programme, and nearby Ecoquest Foundation – the group aims to provide proven, cost-effective and easily transferable methods to prevent nutrient runoff into important waterways. Curbing nutrient run-off improves water quality, and the habitat for the aquatic creatures the shorebirds often feed on.
Peter Roberts, a farmer for more than 20 years, is a firm believer in “leaving the land in a better way than you found it”.
“We all need to consider our impact on the catchment,” he adds. “If you take a bit out of this world, you’ve got to put a bit back.”
Removal of stock around streams feeding into the Firth began about five years ago – the first project trust members and supporters made. Riparian planting followed, along with extensive work to control possums: “You can’t really do one without the other – that became very obvious once we started planting alongside streams.”
There’s a sense the project has really clicked up a gear in the last year or so: “We’re really getting some community buy-in now – things have grown quite a lot,” he says.
While the members of the group work hard on their own properties, traditional kiwi working bees loom as an option to bring participants together and increase pest control efforts.
“Initially, we’re working in the Miranda catchment, because there’s been some funding available – but we’re looking to replicate that in other catchments nearby.”
He’s keen to see the work his group is doing adopted by others along the Firth’s western coast.
“It takes time, and it’s not easy – there are a million variables,” he says. “But it is achievable if you get the buy-in from the community.”
DOC Senior Biodiversity Ranger Dion Patterson agrees, and says crucial to success of the Living Water programme is “working with the willing”. Landowners, residents and community conservation groups need to partner with DOC to seize opportunities including the availability of knowledge, expertise and funding. The impact of possum control presents some “quick wins” for landowners (like more fruit on fruit trees), with improved water quality, increasing biodiversity and bird populations the long-term benefits.
Peter Roberts is also philosophical: he understands it’s probably a little too early to see significant water quality results in the Firth and wetland just yet, but he’s confident it’s coming in the long term.
“Hopefully I’ll be down there getting some whitebait out of the stream in a couple of years. And down at the estuary, the fish are a bit small at the moment, but if I live long enough, hopefully they’ll be big enough to put in a bag!”
World Wetlands Day is Sunday 2 February. For more information, click here.
For more on the Fonterra and DOC Living Water programme, click here.