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Published: 2017-12-20 16:45:00

Prisoners will be growing and planting eco-sourced trees for a project given $126,750 by Waikato Regional Council’s Natural Heritage Fund.

Project Tongariro will be given the money over three years for restoration planting along the Waiotaka River, which flows mainly across Department of Corrections land.

The Waiotaka River Restoration Project aims to restore ecologically appropriate vegetation – alluvial kahikatea, mataī, tōtara and ribbonwood forest, and small areas of wetland vegetation – within the Waiotaka River riparian corridor. Currently the river margins are infested with crack willow, blackberry and other weeds. 

Project Tongariro plans to work with Rongomai Marae and Tongariro Prison, with the prison producing eco-sourced trees for the project and the labour to plant most of the trees.

The weed control will be done by the Department of Corrections and professional contractors, and Project Tongariro will also coordinate community planting days with Ngati Rongomai.

The restoration will help improve the water quality of the Waiotaka River and Lake Taupō by creating a wide indigenous vegetation buffer, and ensure access to the river for the public.

The project complements historic willow control works undertaken by the council 8-10 years ago.

The grant is one of three Natural Heritage Fund applications approved by the finance committee at its December meeting. Mahakirau Forest Estate Society Inc was given $154,990 over four years for predator control work and Waikato Raupatu River Trust/Nikau Whanau Trust was given $84,000 towards the purchase of 13 hectares of the Matahuru Wetland at Lake Waikare.

Finance committee chairperson Jane Hennebry said Project Tongariro is a large, well-supported community group with an excellent track record of managing significant natural areas in the Tongariro-Taupō region.

“They have strong conservation ethics, and they inspire New Zealanders and visitors to connect with the land,” Cr Hennebry said.

The Natural Heritage Fund has been in place since 2005 and is derived from the natural heritage targeted rate of $5.80 per property. The total amount allocated per year to the fund varies but is usually around $730,000.