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Published: 2009-09-03 00:00:00

Waipa farmer Pieter van Dongen is encouraging other Waikato farmers to retire land around sensitive water bodies, saying it makes good economic sense.

Mr van Dongen and his wife Joy, who farm at Rukuhia just west of Hamilton, have been working with Environment Waikato to protect Lake Mangahia, a peat lake with high conservation value.

The lake boasts one of the most diverse collections of native wetland species of all the region’s peat lakes, but is under threat from invasive pests, land drainage and nutrient flows.

“We wanted to protect the lake because it was being choked by invasive willow,” Mr van Dongen said.

“It was degrading and it was going to end up an unattractive blot on the landscape.  We wanted to do something for the environment and retain part of our natural heritage.”

With help from Environment Waikato lake management officer Keri Neilson and land management officer Tane Desmond, Tony Roxburgh from Waipa District Council and Rex Webby of the QEII National Trust, the van Dongens decided to retire about three hectares of land around the edge of the lake.

“Some farmers are reluctant to give up lakeside land because of its perceived grazing value,” Mr van Dongen said.

“But the areas we’ve fenced off are now much easier to manage, because we don’t have to worry about animals getting stuck in bogs.

“Reducing our grazing area won’t have any long term effect economically at all – in fact long term we think there will be a gain because we will be able to manage the pasture a lot better.  We’re also enhancing the value of the land and creating big aesthetic benefits.”

The van Dongens have covenanted the land they’ve retired and fenced it off to keep stock out.

Together with other locals and duck shooters, they have recently formed the Lake Mangahia Care Group, which has been planting trees in the fenced areas.  The plants will improve biodiversity and help to filter out excess nutrients flowing off surrounding farmland.

“Locals can see the benefits of protecting the lake and it’s very rewarding for everyone,” Mr van Dongen said.

“I’d like to think that 50-100 years from now, the people who are farming this land will say those people had a bit of vision and foresight.”

Thanks to the care group’s support, Environment Waikato has been able to source funding to buy plants through its own Clean Streams fund and the Honda Tree Fund.  It has also secured $51,000 from the Department of Conservation’s Biodiversity Condition Fund for further wetland restoration work.

Mr van Dongen said he and his wife had received “marvellous support” from Environment Waikato, Waipa District Council and the QEII National Trust.

“I would encourage any farmer whose land borders a sensitive water body to talk to Environment Waikato,” he said.

“Keri and Tane are absolutely great; they’re very pro-farmer and they’ve got a great deal of knowledge and experience to offer.  There’s so much help and assistance available and there are enormous benefits to be gained.”

If you farm near a lake or wetland and are interested in protecting it, please call Environment Waikato on 0800 800 401 and ask for your local land management officer.