Environment Waikato is considering using its newly established Natural Heritage Fund to enhance peat lake restoration, Environment Waikato’s Environment Committee meeting heard last week.
Freshwater ecologist Rachel Kelleher said progress was being made in cleaning up the Waikato’s many peat lakes. The Region has more than 100 lakes and many freshwater ecosystems, including rivers, pristine peat bogs, mineralised wetlands, 30 peat lakes associated with developed peatlands and small, shallow riverine lakes.
Their ecosystems were nationally important because they were the largest remaining collection of such habitats in one area in the country and provided habitat to a range of plants and animals, including threatened species, she said.
A Waipa Peat Lakes and Wetland Accord was signed by representatives of Environment Waikato, DOC, Waipa District Council, Auckland Waikato Fish and Game Council and Nga Iwi Toopu O Waipa in 2002 to integrate peat lake management. Since December last year the Accord parties had established priorities for sites to pool resources and integrate management.
Priority was set on past and present level of commitment from agencies, level of community interest and alignment with ecological rankings. Four sites were identified as priorities for restoration – Lakes Ngaroto, Mangakaware, Rotomanuka and Rotopiko (Serpentine). Lake Maratoto was also ecologically important but is under private ownership, she said.
Since 2002 progress had been made to protect the minimum water levels of 10 Waikato peat lakes. For a few, setting minimum levels by installing water control structures was not possible or effective, she said. During 2003 water recorders were installed in the highest priority lakes.
It was important to stop the lakes disappearing and to look at all lakes as providing connectivity of the larger Waikato peat system, so all were collectively important, she said.
Future opportunities included investigating opportunities with Waipa District Council to set ecologically appropriate esplanade strips and margins through subdivision consents and developing a co-ordinated approach to obtaining key areas of privately owned land surrounding lakes through rates relief or land purchase. Environment Waikato would also co-ordinate support for research focused on restoring Waipa’s peat lakes and support DOC’s Waikato Wetland Visitor Strategy.
The Committee heard from owner Andrew Hayes who with his wife recently won a Farm Environment Award for the work done over five years on Lake Kaituna on his farm. The area was now a feeding area for bird life and the couple had removed willows and fenced the lake as well as developing a public walking track.
Cr Paula Southgate said she was impressed with the gains made in the area in such a short time. Cr Jenni Vernon said Mr Hayes understated the work he had put in, and more role models were needed to show these improvements could be made.
People did not realise how hard the job was, she said. She congratulated the Hayes family on the work they had done conserving the lakes.