With water quality, environmental health and sustainability of rural land increasingly under the spotlight, a Katikati group say the way forward is community-led individual catchment projects.
The pilot of a future blueprint is happening in the Western Bay of Plenty, which grew out of a Katikati sheep and beef farming family’s environmental work on their own land on Lund Rd.
Project Parore is a community approach where everyone – farmers included – are doing their bit to improve the environmental and ecological status of their Te Mania catchment.
Managed by a group under the Uretara Estuary Managers Group umbrella, the project is being designed to serve as a template for fellow BOP catchments feeding the Tauranga Moana.
Rick Burke, with his father-in-law Derry Seddon began the journey of redesigning Pukekauri Farms, a 350ha hill country property, in 1996.
Current UEM president Lawrie Donald knocked on Rick’s door not long after with a Farm Environmental Plan.
“We’d just bought a neighbouring farm,” says Rick. “And Lawrie said to me and Derry: ‘Hey guys, you’ve got a good chance to do some pretty neat stuff environmentally on your farm, so we took a blank canvas approach.”
Since then Rick has fenced off streams and created wide corridor riparian strips; reticulated the farm’s stock water; taken steeper country out of farming altogether; and planted 50ha in both native and exotic trees.
“This catchment had a real issue with sediment coming out of hill country,” says Rick. “There was no water reticulation, everything was fenced to the rivers. Stock relied on stream water, and I guess it was a mess,” says Rick. “The health of the streams wasn’t good.”
Rick’s main focus was mitigating against sediment loss and e.coli associated with stock in streams, and improving catchment biodiversity. “But it was also looking at the opportunities in terms of profitability on the grazing platform.”
This is crucial, says Rick, who believes while undertaking environmental work is invaluable – doing so must also ensure financial viability and positive outcomes for land use operations, such as farming. In 2014 Pukekauri Farm won the BOP Supreme Ballance Farm Environment Award.
Natural capital approach
Through his FEP, Rick took a natural capital approach – using the Land Use Capability classification system to split the property into land classes from 1-7. “With LUC, once you get your head around what you want to achieve, it’s a really powerful tool for optimising land use,” says Rick.
Lawrie says the key is to treat your farm as an asset and analyse which part is the best place to spend money. “You’ve got ask: Where can I spend $1 and get $2 back?
“In the past many people have bought a hill country farm and raced out and cleared scrub and gorse at the back – just to give themselves more grass – but productivity of the rest of the farm is not good anyway. So you really should concentrate on your best piece of ground first and build that up.
“Once that stops returning for every dollar you spend, you move on to other bits. That’s the mindset.”
Rick says Pukekauri Farms has focused on the “good bits of land” and getting good farm systems going. “And it’s shown a huge return – we’re talking 35-40 per cent return on capital spend – if you get the formula right.”
After Derry passed away in 2015, Rick’s brother John came on-board as a partner and has continued Derry’s focus on the environment.
In 2017 John, Lawrie, Rick and a wider group said: ‘Hey if we can do this on this farm, why can’t we do it for the whole catchment?’” Project Parore was born.
Lawrie says the whole-catchment approach has been around since the 1970s has recently come back in favour. “People just weren’t interested in this before. But the thrust that’s coming through from politicians, from everything from pest management to freshwater quality, recently has really pushed it.”
Rick says now is the ideal time for communities and farmers alike to take on a whole-catchment approach. “There are tensions out there about freshwater with Kiwis calling farmers out about freshwater, part of that is social licence to farm.
“And we know regulations are coming from government, so we as farmers want to get ahead of the game. It has all come to a head now, so farmers are thinking: ‘This is real – so let’s get on and do it’.”
John says in 2017 a small group – Lawrie, himself, BOPRC land management officer Braden Rowson, and Katikati residents ex-Forest & Bird chair and entomologist Peter Maddison and Karen Smillie – got together.
They put together a project plan, setting milestones and baseline measurements for Project Parore, and introduced it to the community in February 2019.
The aim is to achieve community-led ecological restoration and water quality improvement of Te Mania Catchment, with two main pressures being water quality and biodiversity/habitat loss.
Project Parore is named after the native herbivore fish, which previously abundant in Tauranga Harbour has seen habitat degradation lead to its decline. Increased numbers of this specie would signal the project’s success, say the group.
The catchment is 1300ha of small but steep land, which is versatile but has erosion-prone volcanic soils, with 28km of stream margins and 1.7km of harbour margin.
According to the group, 19 per cent of the catchment’s private land is protected – and land use is diverse from commercial to residential and recreational, with a very mixed primary sector.
Already the group has individual landowners taking their own actions towards environmental restoration; a Lund Road Care Group tackles pest control; a catchment-wide synoptic survey monitors stream health; and Ngai Tamawhariua hapu is the project kaitiaki.
And – in a NZ-first – four industry support groups – Beef+Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Zespri and NZ Avocado – have signed a MOU to support the project.
The project will have workshops for four user groups – commercial farming; lifestyle and rural residential; rural industrial; and reactional – to consider strategies and action plans to address issues.
A key component will be creating a support team to coordinate development and implementation of action plans, says Rick. And the approach will focus on practical actions and regenerative management practices that landowners can apply to improve environment outcomes on their properties.
Recently, Project Parore was officially launched to the Katikati community, with those leading it reporting on consultation they’d undertaken and presenting the plan for the future.
“This was about saying thanks for the feedback we received and sharing our final aspirations for the project and the journey,” says John.
“In reality, the journey has already started. We’ve already got farmers down the catchment now that are undertaking work.
“Now we have to identify priority areas within the catchment and assist those landowners – whether they be farmers, orchardists our rural lifestylers – to do what they need to do to improve that area of the catchment,” says John.
They also want to get more community involvement – for example, schools taking on nurseries or land strips, and retirees lending a hand to weed and animal pest management.
And with 17 catchments feeding into Tauranga Moana, the group believe the work being done in their catchment could be replicated across the others.
“What we intend out of this is it will be scaled up pretty quickly,” says John, who with Rick is speaking at numerous events to encourage farmers to realise the power of this community-led approach. For more information on Project Parore, email: firstname.lastname@example.org