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A river runs through them

The Wharekawa Catchment Care Group in Opoutere is restoring the river, tributaries and wetlands to clean up and preserve the harbour for generations to come.

 

Image - Allan Bridson, Chairman of Wharekawa Catchment GroupI’ve lived in Opoutere for 50 years, since when they changed to the decimal currency.

I am a farmer. I guess if you are absolutely honest, when we started it was slash and burn, everything grass, and that was the thinking of the day. Over time we have become more environmentally aware. Effluent used to go out in the harbour once, although we had smaller numbers of cows. But people gathered shellfish, kids swam there and we thought it was all right. So many things are terrible if you think about it in hindsight.

Fifty years ago, where our lawn was, you could stand there and there wasn’t a mangrove in sight.

Degredation has been slow, probably for the last 100 years, 150 years. Probably, if you went back, the kauri felling was the first upset. Then they cleared the land for planting pine forests.

We’ve had 150 years at least of continual development and flow-on effect. It would be great to solve it all in one weekend but we won’t.

When you go back to the beginning, which is a good place to start, it was about 12 years ago that Environment Waikato – as it was called then – held a public meeting up here. A few people were upset about the state of the estuary and river. It wasn’t just one group of people. There were people who came for holidays and they couldn’t kayak, we had farmers unhappy with flooding, white baiters felt the river was blocked up … it was a wide group of people.

The council asked: “Do you want to clean the river up? If you do, get a group together, and we will be able to achieve something.”

 

Image - Wharekawa Catchment Care GroupWe have a committee of about 10, and another 10-15 who are good supporters, and then a membership of about 50. We have a membership fee, and we get very good support from DOC and regional council in the form of subsidised trees and plants. Our time is really the only thing we donate.

We pester regional council when we have issues. We keep an eye on the river. One of the good things about our community is people live in different spots. Everyone is involved. Everyone has skin in the game.

What we call beaver dams – when willows overhang the river their roots trap logs and debris – have been cleared by council. They get in there with diggers and clear the blockages.

The little tributaries and streams that run into the river, we have done a lot of planting to try and set up water lanes and filter systems. Farmers on adjoining land have been planting natives. There is positive peer pressure there. We have traps for stoats and weasels and mice to help protect banded rail, bittern and other wetland birds.

We have tried to keep it pretty simple. We have two to three planting working bees a year. Then we have perhaps six to seven working bees where we do weed control. Some of our planting dos we have to think of stuff to do because of the amount of people that turn up.

Our involvement with the school is really good. The kids get involved. They have very clear-eyed and bushy tailed vision. We have brilliant support from landowners. Rayonier Forestry have been very good to work with.

The Kapakapa wetland is a relatively new project we are working on. The land was planted in pine trees. Pine trees were felled. It was a bloody mess. Something had to be done. A couple of thousand plants have gone in the ground, it’s an ongoing project. The plants will provide a good buffer between the forestry land and tributary.

The entire catchment was in a hell of a mess. There is still a long way to go yet but we have made a start. A good example is that 12 years ago you could probably get a kayak 1 kilometre up the river, now you can go 5-6 kilometres.

If we all sit on our hands and just thought about it, in another 50 years our great grandkids will say “it’s a pity those old sods didn’t do something”.