What’s the project?
A small group of motivated landowners established the Western Firth Catchment Group Trust (WFCGT) in 2016/2017. The WFCGT residents’ and landowners’ properties extend 24 kilometres along the Western Firth from Waitakaruru to Wharekawa. These community members are focused on environmental restoration, primarily through pest control and planting. It has been running since 2018 and is chaired by local farmer Peter Roberts.
Living Water supported the WFCGT and co-designed a project to create a freshwater biodiversity corridor through farmland from the hilltop to the coast. An integrated catchment management approach from ‘Mountains to Sea’ was developed with Living Water providing tools, solutions, and funding to help landowners achieve water quality and biodiversity improvements that would collectively make a difference.
The project objectives include enhancing the Pūkorokoro-Miranda estuarine environment, which is part of the 8500-hectare Firth of Thames RAMSAR wetland, dramatically reduce sediment run-off and increase ecological resilience across the whole catchment.
What was done?
Living Water supported the project by undertaking a Catchment Condition Survey (CCS) to provide baseline data on the current state of the catchment, recording erosion-prone land, barriers to fish passage and stream fencing. Next Living Water developed and refined a geospatial catchment prioritisation tool (CAPTure). CAPTure uses spatial layers of scientific information from a variety of sources, including the CCS, to create maps showing priority areas for locating interventions to achieve freshwater improvement targets.
Living Water funded Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) for large land blocks and created hybrid FEPs for smaller blocks (under 20 hectares) removing some of the complexity and costs associated with FEPs and providing more options/flexibility.
To engage owners of smaller landholdings in catchment management a Predator Free Strategy was developed. Though not normally part of a standard integrated catchment management approach, this was the outcome of a survey of landowners and a community workshop, and was critical in engaging owners of smaller landholdings in catchment management activities. Recognizing the importance of protecting the extensive revegetation work across the waterways and wetlands, and of engaging owners of smaller landholdings, a possum control expert was brought in. He supported the community to upskill in trapping and lead a trial of trapping methods.
Joint activities in the ‘Mountains to Sea’ project have included Living Water-funded installation of detention bunds in the upper catchment to capture stormwater run-off, poplar planting to stabilise erosion prone hillsides, and the planting of streams and drains. Living Water funds the plants while the landowners fund the fencing.
Unfortunately, drought conditions in 2019/20 prevented water quality sampling. Drone footage of the catchment provides a photographic record of mitigation actions, such as silt detention dams and poplar planting on erosion-prone slopes. The Catchment Condition Survey was repeated in 2023 to measure progress.
What has been achieved?
Living Water provided financial support to the WFCGT to establish water quality improvement actions. An integrated catchment management approach incorporating a Catchment Condition Survey, and a catchment prioritisation tool (CAPTure), was developed and promoted. Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) and hybrid FEPs were completed and priority mitigations on farms were partially funded. A catchment landowner survey led to a well-attended community pest control information workshop, which resulted in the development and implementation of a Predator Free Strategy.
The 2023 Catchment Condition Survey recorded and analysed both biophysical and social changes in the catchment over the 5-year period. Physical improvements in the catchment included over 10kms of waterways planted with natives and over 43km of new fencing of waterways.
The landowner interviews revealed insights on freshwater perception, waterway management, and a shift in farming mindset. Landowners noted that a lot of environmental enhancement had occurred, which has increased fish and bird life, improved aesthetics, and enhanced farm management.
What did Living Water learn?
People are critical to implementing a catchment-wide approach to improving freshwater quality. The Catchment Condition Survey, Catchment Prioritisation Tool, developing Farm Environment Planss, and the predator control trials were key engagement activities that united the catchment. Working with engaged landowners and focusing on a manageable catchment area makes it easier to use an integrated approach that could be scaled across a wider area.
Frequent interactions with landowners and community members allowed Living Water to identify challenges and gather feedback. Challenges identified included sourcing advice on appropriate tree species to plant, consent requirements, cash flow, landowner availability, weather and plant accessibility.
Feedback emphasised that engagement, understanding farmers' needs, and providing equitable funding were needed in a comprehensive programme.
The success of the joint activities illustrates the importance of working with existing community groups, rather than competing with them for funding and membership. By funding an existing group with an active and committed membership, activities can be actioned immediately and progress achieved much faster than would occur with setting up a new organisation. By partnering with the WFCGT, Living Water has provided valuable funding for several years and empowered the Trust to seek alternative funding for future year’s activities as Living Water winds down its projects. This is an important legacy for Living Water’s work in the catchment.