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Published: 2003-03-12 00:00:00

About 40 people will reflect on the wonders of nature at Waitomo during a tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave next weekend.

The free tour has been organised by Environment Waikato, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waitomo Museum of Caves and the Waitomo Catchment Trust as part of the 10-day Festival of the Environment, which runs from March 14-23 throughout the Waikato Region.

The Waitomo Glowworm Cave is one of the most visited natural attractions in New Zealand, but for the latter part of the last century the cave has been threatened as a result of land clearing and use. In 1992 the community formed the Waitomo Catchment Trust Board and, in conjunction with Environment Waikato, established the Waitomo Catchment Scheme. The objective was to protect the natural aboveground and underground resources by encouraging sustainable land management practices.

Since coming together in 1992 the community has achieved spectacular results. Nearly 20 percent of the catchment land area is now protected from erosion by forest plantations and native vegetation.

Approximately 60 km of fences has been completed, protecting 625 ha of native bush. Stock has been excluded from 20 km of streams, as well as wetlands, cave entrances and tomos, and forestry has been established on 350 ha of pastureland unsuited to grazing.

Further protection has been provided by planting streambanks, gullies and hillsides with native species, establishing legal covenants over bush on private property and instituting Land Improvement Agreements which commit landowners to ongoing maintenance of retired areas.
The owners of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves recognised that tourism can also place demands on the cave system. Artificial lighting, pathways and changes to air temperature and humidity can all disrupt the delicate balance that nature has attained.

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves developed a sophisticated environmental monitoring programme to help preserve the physical attributes of the cave, its climate and ecosystems while ensuring that a suitable habitat for glowworms was maintained in conjunction with a world famous tourist destination.

The monitoring programme covers aspects of the cave climate and the glowworms themselves. A variety of parameters are measured, logged and the data used in the day-to-day environmental management of the cave.

Knowledge allows for proactive planning. It appears that the commitment by landowners and support from tourism operators, Iwi, Department of Conservation, local bodies, conservation organisations and local outdoor enthusiasts is resulting in positive outcomes.