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Published: 2007-04-16 00:00:00

There could soon be more whitebait fritters sizzling in Hauraki pans if a planned Environment Waikato project goes ahead.

The council is striving to increase biodiversity across the region by creating areas where plants and animals can thrive, using the land its ratepayers already own.

Biodiversity is the variety of life – the individual species, the genes they comprise and the ecosystems they collectively form.

“The Waihou River catchment is a great place to start because we administer a lot of land in this area under the Waihou Valley flood protection scheme,” environmental officer Michelle Gibbs said.

“In conjunction with Fish and Game New Zealand we’ve already identified about a dozen sites we could use for biodiversity enhancement.”

These sites are now being ranked according to factors such as ecological values, cost issues, ease of access and flood management impacts.

“This is about integrating different areas of work we do to make the best possible use of the land we have available and maximising community benefits,” Environment Waikato River and Catchment Services Committee chairman Andra Neeley said.

“Flood management, for example, is not the only way to extract value from Waihou Valley Scheme land. As a council one of our objectives is to increase biodiversity across the region, so why not create wetlands and plant trees on the floodplains we already manage?

“Recreational groups such as Fish and Game New Zealand stand to benefit as wildlife populations flourish, the environment benefits and the wider community benefits through enhanced aesthetics and by having more recreational opportunities.

“Maintaining the original flood management function of the land is, of course, crucial to any project we undertake. Extensive flood modeling work will be carried out to ensure any enhancement work we do on floodplains will not interfere with the ability of the land to cope with excess water flows. And it will be important to take possible sea level rises and climate change into account.”

One wetland project next to the Waihou River near Ferry Rd, about 10 minutes north of Paeroa, is already being investigated.

“Soil in this area has already been dug up to top up a nearby stop bank and we will be taking more in the coming year,” Ms Gibbs said. “The resulting hole could easily be turned into a tidal wetland, which would provide habitat for wildlife and, potentially, a recreational area for duck shooters.”

Inanga, one of the species that make up whitebait, spawn in tidal wetlands, most of which have been lost in the Waihou River areas as land has been drained for farming.

“We hope inanga will swim into our new wetland on the spring high tide in March and April and lay their eggs in the long native grasses and rushes,” Ms Gibbs said. “When the next spring tide comes around May the eggs will wash into the water and the inanga larvae will be washed out into the Firth of Thames for a few months of growing before returning up the rivers in the spring whitebait run. That’s got to be good for whitebaiters all over Hauraki and the Firth of Thames.”

The flax, cabbage trees, kahikatea, native grasses and rushes planted in the wetland will also provide habitat for birds and insects.

“We’re not exactly sure how the wetland will look yet but we will continue to work with Fish and Game and the local community on our plan,” Ms Gibbs said.