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Published: 2010-04-20 00:00:00

A Coromandel farming couple Doug and Kathy Bentham say their work to protect a 35 hectare patch of native forest, including kauri, is proving immensely satisfying.

Mr and Mrs Bentham, who farm at Whangamata, have been working with Environment Waikato and the QEII National Trust to protect the forest from damage by stock by fencing it off.

Their property is upstream from the Otahu estuary, a key ecological site and high use recreational area.

"For many years we’ve been meaning to take better care of the steeper bushy areas on our property," Mr Bentham said.

"We decided to retire the land to preserve the topsoil on the steeper slopes, to protect water quality, to sustain native flora and fauna, and simply because it is the right thing to do."

With help from EW land management officer Matthew Highway and the trust’s Hamish Kendal, the Benthams decided to fence off the 35 hectares of "steep valley country". EW and the trust covered just over two thirds of the costs of fencing, with the Benthams paying the rest.

"It’s a bit of a hassle at the time you are doing it, but the immense feeling of satisfaction once you have done it makes it all worth it. And it didn’t work out to be as costly as we had thought," Mr Bentham said.

"Keeping the cattle out gives the forest a chance to regenerate. The undergrowth has thickened and the trees at ground level have been sprouting. Many seedlings are germinating and growing. And it’s easier to control the stock now because there’s less bush for them to get lost in."

He has also noticed a change in the water drawn from the stream on the property: "The water for the troughs and the houses is cleaner and tastes delicious."

Mr Bentham said it had been easy to work with EW and the trust. "They were very patient with us because it progressed in fits and starts, after taking a long time to get it underway. They very much worked in with us, and made it as easy as possible to do the dreaded paperwork.

"It’s important that we don’t view the planting of pine trees as the only way to absorb carbon. Retiring native forest permanently and allowing for reforestation in native species is equally important when you take into account the carbon sequestration happening in undisturbed soil beneath a mixed species forest as the topsoil recovers and humus builds up.

"I hope in the future that the financial benefits available to exotic forest planters are also available to native forest protectors."

EW’s contributed to the project through the Peninsula Project, under which up to 35 per cent of the total cost of erosion protection works, wetland, stream and bush protection and animal pest control is available to Coromandel Peninsula landowners.

Mrs Bentham said that "in my ideal world, EW would contribute what it does with the rest coming from big carbon users like airlines, electricity generators and freight companies".