Thursday, 21 March 2024 10:55

Passion for waterway inspires work to enhance 'special place'

Written by  Staff Reporters
Koura monitoring in the Whakauru Stream. Koura monitoring in the Whakauru Stream.

South Waikato's Pokaiwhenua Stream is a special place full of memories for Hadleigh Putt.

The Pokaiwhenua Catchment Group co-ordinator grew up on a dairy farm bordering the stream and says the waterway was central to family barbecues, fishing expeditions, camping, neighbourhood raft races and general exploring.

"I've lived away from the area, but whenever I visit the stream at the back of the family farm, I feel connected to it, and to those places where so many memories were formed. In recent years I've been able to share these places with my wife and two boys, which is very special," says Putt.

The stream, which flows for 56km from the Waikato River near the Mamaku Plateau to Lake Karapiro’s eastern shore, has also served as a community hub, Hadleigh says.

“Cubs and Scout camps also took place beside the stream, and it was always a place we would take visitors to, and where we’d try and catch a trout or two.”

Now Putt and the other Pokaiwhenua Catchment Group (PCG) trustees are working in partnership with DairyNZ and the Raukawa Charitable Trust to protect the waterway. Their combined work to improve biodiversity and waterway health is currently focused on the Whakauru Stream, a tributary of the Pokaiwhenua Stream adjacent to the Tokoroa Sports Centre.

The project, which is funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Jobs for Nature programme, brings western science and matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) together to better understand ecological health in waterways and how to improve it.

“In this early stage of the project, we are wanting to learn more about the Whakauru Stream, its history and what native plant and animal species live within and rely on it,” Hadleigh says. “Freshwater ecology studies will help build this understanding, alongside matauranga Māori methods.”

The partnership will also see more than 15,000 new plants line the Whakauru Stream. Community and iwi planting days and pest and weed control activities are planned, and on-farm strategies to improve waterway health will be trialled and shared among farmers.

“When we have had community planting days in the past, we tend to get a lot of local people turning up, eager to put in a few hours for a community-good project,” Putt says.

“People often ask us to let them know when the next planting day is.

“A big component of this particular project is engaging with the community. We hope this work will provide a living example of what well-planned riparian planting can look like and be a source of inspiration for dairy farmers and the wider community.”

The PCG has funding from Waikato River Authority (WRA) for its work, enabling it to continue partnering with DairyNZ. Hadleigh says this shows the WRA’s increasing trust in what the PCG can do and is a huge achievement for the group.

“It means we can boost the DairyNZ project and work with the Syben family on the other side of the Whakauru Stream. We now have a plan in place that will see the removal of pest weed species, re-fencing of the stream for the entire length on the edge of the Sybens’ property and planting of appropriate native species to form an effective riparian buffer.”

Catchment groups have proven to be effective in bringing communities together to achieve a common goal through sharing ideas and resources, Hadleigh says. He’s a firm believer in catchment groups’ ability to bring people together to achieve multiple environmental objectives.

Hadleigh Putt FBTW

PCG co-ordinator Hadleigh Putt monitoring tuna in the Pokaiwhenua catchment.

Great Work by Farmers

The Pokaiwhenua Catchment Group (PCG) was formed in 2021, after the idea of it came to founder Andrew Lennox. It has seven trustees – including Lennox, the group’s chair – and an email database comprising most of the catchment’s 250 landowners, as well as a Facebook page.

Putt became the PCG’s co-ordinator six months ago, after chairing the group since its inception. His past experience includes more than five years at Fonterra as a sustainable dairy adviser and 11 years with Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

As co-ordinator, he organises the PCG’s various extension events, which involves connecting with host landowners and guest speakers in specialist fields. He also works with landowners around fencing and planting of riparian margins and other areas on farms best suited for retirement from grazing.

This work has helped change the catchment’s waterways over the years, he says.

“The biggest change I have seen is the huge effort farmers have put into fencing waterways to exclude stock, and the many great examples of riparian planting they’ve enthusiastically established in these fenced areas in the past 10-20 years.”

He hopes farmers within the catchment will continue the great work that has been started, to lessen their impact on the waterways within the catchment.

“We would also like to see local residents enjoying the stream and taking on a guardianship role for it, and for the flora and fauna it supports.”

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