The Living Water Partnership in the Hikurangi

August 2016

Fonterra, farmers and DOC work on one of five areas targeted for environmental remediation

The Living Water Partnership in the HikurangiLiving Water is a partnership between Fonterra and DOC to improve water quality and biodiversity in 5 catchments across New Zealand where significant and intensive dairy farming exists – Tikapa Moana/the Firth of Thames; Waikato peat lakes; Kaipara Harbour; Te Waihora/LakeEllesmere; and Awarua/Waituna Lagoon. The partnership vision is to assure a sustainable dairy industry that is part of healthy functioning eco-systems.

The Kaipara Harbour with the Hikurangi catchment has it’s own unique eco-systems and issues. Farmers, iwi, interested organisations and community groups in the area are working with Living Water to eradicate pest plants, plant riparian areas, restore the Otakairangi peat bog and some oxbows in the river and improve the numbers of eel, threatened Northland mudfish, kēwai (fresh water crayfish) and ‘at risk’ Sporodanthus ferrugineus (cane rush) amongst other plants, to the area.

The programme has five key performance areas:

Achieving biodiversity and water quality improvement
Developing environmental sustainability on-farm
Fostering a close working partnership with iwi
Working in partnership with stakeholders, landholders and community
Sharing our story
The 10-year/$20 million partnership agreement aims to make the nominated catchments living examples of how dairy farming can exist alongside healthy functioning natural ecosystems. Fonterra acknowledges that they need to be upfront and action focused to meet the challenges of water quality and at the end of the day farmers, like all of us, need healthy water too.

The first part of the programme after the signing of the agreement in 2013, was establishing relationships with interested farmers and partners. Farmer support was important within the catchments in order to undertake the work.

In each of the nominated catchments Living Water has worked with landowners and community groups and iwi in order to set a strategy for that area. The strategy informs the projects, trials and science that are carried out in each catchment. At the end of the 10 years they want to have a number of practical, low cost solutions that can be shared around the country and that farmers can implement easily.

“It’s about working on both sides of the farm gate to make a difference to water quality and the environment,” says Eric Morrison, head of Co-operative Affairs for Fonterra in Northland. “It’s not a ‘flash in the pan’, Fonterra are very dedicated to responsible dairying and protecting the NZ/Fonterra reputation.”

Fonterra is providing staff time, dairying and marketing expertise, volunteers, two full-time project managers and the programme’s operating funding. Fonterra farmer shareholders are contributing across the whole programme by providing advice on the strategy, giving practical advice on specific projects, and allowing access to their own farms as places to develop environmental good practice examples.

DOC is providing a full-time Site Lead, a full time project manager, staff time, technical expertise particularly freshwater, community and iwi engagement skills and a Fonterra funded full-time national Programme Manager.

In late March 2016, Living Water signed a MOU with the QEII National Trust. The MOU will see faster processing for Fonterra farmers in the catchment areas to legally protect natural heritage areas in perpetuity. Cost contributions from Living Water will be on a case by case basis. Fonterra themselves have put land – the Hikurangi Trust Reserve – under a QEII covenant.

The Kaipara Harbour is one of the 5 Living Water regions and is a nursery ground for key commercial and recreational fish populations. Most snapper in the west coast North Island fishery are born here. Great white sharks have their pups here. Arctic migratory birds including bar-tailed godwits and red knots are among the thousands of wading birds that forage on the inter-tidal flats on the foreshore.

The Hikurangi catchment (around 32,100 ha) is located at the head of the much larger Kaipara Harbour catchment (658,000 ha). Once a giant wetland, the Hikurangi floodplain (around 13,140 ha) has been largely drained and developed for agriculture, forestry, horticulture, and lifestyle blocks. It is one of the largest wetland areas left in NZ and includes the Otakairangi peat bog.

The estuarine wetland ecosystem is rare because many others that used to exist have been destroyed due to increasing population and development. Endangered flora and fauna includes the rare Northland mudfish (this is their only habitat in the world), Swamp hebe and the heart-leaved Kohuhu.

The floodplain is characterised by a series of oxbows (u-shaped bends in a river). These areas are extremely valuable, productive, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Small, fragmented natural areas of high ecological value remain on private land, including rare riparian forest containing nationally and regionally threatened species. Most of these are in critical need of rehabilitation, including fencing, weed control and the provision of buffers and linkages.

There are 33 Fonterra farmers alone in the Hikurangi Living Water catchment.

Living Water in this catchment has a strong focus on restoring biodiversity and engaging community in this area. To date the projects include:

On farm biodiversity studies – ecologists are brought in to map and describe areas of ecological significance on farms and then for Living Water and Fonterra staff to work with farmers to protect those areas.
LW supports local iwi in a monitoring project to transfer elvers (eel babies) to waterways within the catchment. This is Sept-early March.
LW worked with Fish and Game to construct a man-made wetland – a video was made to aid other farmers in their work to construct similar wetlands.
LW are working with farmers and community groups/schools to plant out riparian strips.
A survey by a Northtec student into the health and prevelance of the mudfish on the Hikurangi flood plains.
Coordinating efforts to clean up pest plants e.g DOC staff, volunteers and conservation students from Northtec spent time at the Wairua River reserve in Dec 2015 attacking privet and wandering willie. This will give the rare heart-leaved kohuhu and Hikurangi swamp hebe more room to grow in these wetlands.
LW is supporting the release of 10 kiwi translocated into area by the Tanekaha Community Group (release is weekend of the 7th/8th May 2016).
The release of 3 different species of Brazilian Beetles together in the catchment to control the pest weed, wandering willie – this is the first time all 3 have been released at once.
Drone aerial photography and mapping of Otakairangi peat bog with the objective of locating Royal Fern sites and to create spatial mapping of vegetation types to assist in the restoration of the bog.
Living Water is working in partnership with a number of local Fonterra farmers, for example Graeme and Sharon Gillett will be the first to benefit from the work done to fast track land put under QEII covenant.

Rosemary Lister’s family has been working their land in the Hikurangi catchment since 1878. They started with 85ha with her father aquiring another 35ha ‘across the road’ near the Hikurangi mountain for use when the lower part of the farm was in flood. Presently the 120ha dairy farm is share milking 200 Jersey and Jersey cross cows.

Living Water is working to clear and plant out riparian areas alongside the Mangawhero Stream on the farm. The Mangawhero Stream feeds into the Hikurangi swamp. Already, exotics such as privet and willow have been cleared from the banks with planting due to commence soon.

Rosemary says it was serendipitous – she’d been driving along looking at all the privet by the water table on the side of the road and thinking if she had all the money and time in the world she’d like to see that cleared. A few days later she was approached by Fonterra asking if she’d like to be part of Living Water.

Rosemary speaks of the satisfaction of ‘being heard’ by the Living Water partnership. She has had numerous visits to the farm with DOC recently coming out to look at the waterflow of the stream when she’d called during a minor flooding event. She has been able to specify the natives she’d like to see planted and also refuse some from the list she was given, as Rosemary was keen to avoid new rush planting on the property after her father spent many years clearing rushes for the pasture.