We have what we call two landscapes. You see all the cars but where are the people? They are all underground. So we have this whole other area to manage. We get to see what happens underneath the surface, and it’s pretty neat to be able to do that.
One of the driving points for forming our catchment group was the caves. There are probably 100 caves in this catchment. Water was the sculptor of all of them.
All our run off drains out through one cave. The Waitomo Glowworm Cave is like a giant plug hole. So a lot of what happens in the catchment can have a direct effect on that cave.
Silt was a problem. The caves were getting a lot of silt in them. They had to de-silt the glowworm grotto because the boats were grounding out and the de-silting process could disturb the food source for the glowworms, so it wasn’t a good thing. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the caves to see the glowworms. The streams need to be healthy to harbour the insects that glowworms eat.
I think we were one of the first catchment groups in the country, in a way. Essentially, the old Waikato Valley Authority started doing planting on marginal land. They got a bit of funding but not enough. When Environment Waikato was formed they set up a meeting to try and get a partnership going.
That first meeting was held in 1990 and there was a really great turnout: local community groups, landowners, tourism operators, DOC, the Waitomo District Council, QEII Trust, Native Forest Restoration Trust and people who enjoy planting trees. I was involved with the Black Water Rafting adventure tourism business at the time. People were really enthusiastic. It’s the camaraderie. Everyone is doing the same thing; you get peer pressure.
The regional council drew up property protection plans for the catchment, identifying marginal land that needed retiring and planting. One of the carrots was that farmers could plant pine trees on retired land.
If you look at the catchment now, you can see the difference. Places that were scrubby marginal pieces of land are now bush, mature trees. The water quality has improved. The silt build-up is far more manageable. When we get big rainfall now we don’t get the sheet run off that used to happen.
I always quote one of the local farmers. He is very practical and gave a great speech when we celebrated 20 years. He said “every day I get up and I go outside and my farm looks like a park; I put less fertiliser on my land, now; I lose less stock because I’ve fenced off my waterways and wetlands, and my farm management allows me more time to do the things that I enjoy".