Wednesday, 05 April 2023 08:55

Fish returns to farm streams

Written by  Jessica Marshall
Dairy farmers are helping protect Aparima waterways in Southland. Photo Credit: Edwin Mabonga. Dairy farmers are helping protect Aparima waterways in Southland. Photo Credit: Edwin Mabonga.

Environmental work on-farm helps native fish return to streams, that’s what Aparima dairy farmer Ewen Mathieson is discovering.

Mathieson, who runs his farm with his wife Diane, two sons, and daughter, told Dairy News they were “quite delighted” to find native populations of fish had been found in the stream.

He says the return of native populations to the stream was due to fish passage remediation work, a process through which streams and culverts can be made more ‘fish-friendly’.

In 2020, Environment Southland (ES) was awarded $385,000 from the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme to undertake the work, with ES contributing a further $115,000 over the course of five years.

Mathieson says he and his family contacted ES to get the work done after a letter was circulated to farmers.

“As a result of that remediation work, Environment Southland contracted the University of Otago just in the last few months to do some work around identifying what populations of fish species were below the points of remediation and above,” he says.

He says there were no introduced species found.

“We had in one stretch, and it’s not a very big stream, it’s only… about 1m wide at times and at times halfway up to your knees… a 150m section of that stream had 340 different fish in it,” he says.

Mathieson says that among the species found were banded kokopu, whitebait, long-fin eels, kura and redfin bullys.

“So, it was really exciting to see that.”

He says that on-farm, the family has undertaken numerous different types of environmental work, including fencing, planting and footprint reduction.

“So, there’s been some work around N and phosphorus loss and lowering our carbon footprint as well.”

Mathieson says the family have also done system changes as well, moving away from cropping and instead doing grass wintering, “more extensive grass wintering than intensive grass wintering”.

“We’re only starting to scratch the surface around what we can do with respect to our environment and understanding our landscape.”

Mathieson is a Dairy Environment Leader – a network created by DairyNZ around 10 years ago to support farmers in reducing footprint.

DairyNZ has provided lots of support to farmers in the Aparima catchment, including involvement in the very successful Aparima Catchment Environment project (ACE), which Mathieson is also involved in.

In the project, 600 dairy, sheep and beef farmers work together with land managers, advisors and scientists to implement and track environmental actions across a range of farms and land uses.

The project is led by farmers and supported by DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Environment Southland, Thriving Southland, Fonterra and Open Country Dairy.

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