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Indigenous biodiversity programme | Restoring nature, connecting communities

Kahikatea forest remnant (with some totara and rimu) near Waharoa.


Totara-kahikatea forest remnant alongside the Waitoa River with associated wetlands on the lower floodplain.


Wairere Falls – looking west across the Hauraki Plains towards Te Miro and Te Tapui, with tawa-dominated forest in the foreground.


Mangawhero Road DOC Reserve – lowland kahikatea forest fragment showing effects of weed invasion around the edges.


Piako river riparian totara – off Morrinsville-Tahuna Road, south of turn off to Paeroa. This totara forest fragment sits alongside the bank of the Piako River.


Tirohia remnant – two kahikatea remnants and associated wetlands, close to the Hauraki Rail Trail.

More than 200 native plant and animal species are under threat of extinction in the Waikato and there is an urgent need for a coordinated, collaborative and a strategic approach to biodiversity management to ensure our environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

In response to this, Waikato Regional Council is facilitating a new, innovative and collaborative programme aimed at restoring indigenous biodiversity in the Waikato.

Why is indigenous biodiversity important?

The natural environment provides us with a range of necessities including food, water, materials, flood defences and carbon sequestration. Biodiversity underpins many of these and has many positive flow-on impacts for our economic, social and cultural wellbeing.

Yet, extensive clearance of vegetation and draining of wetlands has reduced the extent of habitats by 75 per cent and 223 species of native plants and animals are threatened with extinction in our region.

This rate of loss began to occur following the first arrival of humans in New Zealand, but accelerated between the 1840s and 1970s. We continue to suffer incremental losses of our native flora, fauna and ecosystems today.

Biodiversity management is particularly relevant in the Waikato where agricultural development has led to extensive habitat loss and modification. While reducing on-farm environmental impacts is good for the environment, increasing agricultural productivity has obvious benefits for our economy.

The good news is that it is possible to stop this degradation and to help restore our region’s indigenous biodiversity in a way that can also be a catalyst for local economic, social and cultural opportunities.

Because our native forests are in decline, the habitats shown in the photos below exist only in small amounts – they are very rare and special places!

About the programme

The programme sets in train a new and innovative approach to cooperatively managing indigenous biodiversity at a regional scale. It’s a big picture framework for groups such as territorial authorities, mana whenua, interest groups and landowners on how to work together to enhance our precious natural resources.

The framework will enable people to identify their roles, connect with others doing similar work and highlight options for working together to achieve common biodiversity goals.

The programme will provide territorial authorities with a broad range of tools and guidelines on how to partner with interested parties in their areas to provide a holistic approach to biodiversity management.

Although Waikato Regional Council is taking the lead on the programme to begin with, it is envisaged that it will eventually transition into a community-led approach that will see territorial authorities and their local communities developing and undertaking actions that will protect and enhance indigenous biodiversity.

The indigenous biodiversity programme, beginning from early 2017, is an extension of a pilot project which took place in 2016 (see details below). It will extend from the upper Waihou catchment in its first year and eventually roll out across the whole region.

The project is funded by Waikato Regional Council’s 2015 – 2025 Long Term Plan and links back to its mission of working together to build a healthy environment, strong economy and vibrant communities.

Testing via the pilot project

Given the innovative nature of the programme, it was important to test the approach.

Upper Waihou catchment pilot

A pilot project, known as Source to the Sea – Te Puna o Waihou ki Tīkapa te Moana, was undertaken in 2016 in the Waihou catchment, taking in parts of South Waikato and Matamata-Piako districts.

This eight month pilot was undertaken in a rural setting which saw Waikato Regional Council work with mana whenua, landowners, land managers and local councils.

It provided a framework which can now (alongside the Hamilton City pilot project) inform the full regional programme which will roll out across the upper Waihou catchment and eventually across the entire Waikato region.


Here are some of the key lessons learned during the pilot.

  • “Grassroots” support and local ownership of biodiversity initiatives is critical (communities will value the work much more if they are involved).
  • One-on-one site-specific advice from knowledgeable people is extremely helpful to landowners who are implementing biodiversity initiatives on the ground.
  • The farm planning process, if done well, has the ability to achieve multiple objectives (integrating biodiversity, water, soil and farm profitability), both for the farm business and the environment, and to remove some of the red tape for landowners wanting to make a positive change in land use.
  • Modelling and mapping of ecological networks has been demonstrated and provides an important scientific basis to the process. It can and should be used to assist and support the development of a community-based biodiversity vision – it is a case of “science on tap, not science on top”.
  • Marae-based engagement opened up significant cultural opportunities to the programme linked to ecological restoration and a commitment from Ngati Hinerangi, one of the local iwi, to formalise the partnership with the project partners.
  • Identifying key partners and investing time to engage with them and to build their capacity to be involved in biodiversity management is critical to success. This process can be time consuming but is a key building block of a successful process.

Read a summary brochure on Source to the Sea - Te Puna o Waihou ki Tīkapa te Moana [PDF, 5.1 MB].

Read the full report on Source to the Sea – Te Puna o Waihou ki Tīkapa te Moana. [PDF, 3.4 MB]

Real stories of biodiversity in action

Understanding the needs and aspirations of landowners in managing biodiversity on their land was important for the Source to Sea pilot project. We talked to a range of landowners from farms across the Waikato to find out how they’re getting on with their biodiversity work specific to their farming situation. Here are some of their stories.

Expanding biodiversity from remnants on Rahiri Farm

Bill and Sue Garland run a sheep and beef farm near Maungatautari (outside of the Waihou-Piako catchment). Ecological restoration has been a part of their farm planning for a number of years and Bill has been sharing this experience and the lessons learned with other farmers over that time.

Bringing nature back to a dairy farm

Hans and Anita Nelis run a dairy farm in the Waihou-Piako catchment and have been undertaking riparian and wetland restoration on their farm for the last 15 years.

Preserving remants on a sheep and beef farm

James Bailey runs a sheep and beef farm near Tirau. James is using a whole-of-farm planning approach where biodiversity is an integral part of reducing the overall environmental foot print, while maintaining profits.

What next for Source to the Sea?

The pilot project outlined a range of important lessons learned and areas of work that need to be further developed and refined. Here is a snapshot of work planned for 2017/18 and beyond:

  • Follow up on the outputs of the on-farm modelling which showed significant potential farm productivity gains from retiring areas for biodiversity enhancement. Assess resource implications for restoration of retired land and options for funding and support.
  • Extend on-farm modelling to other farm types to compare and contrast results.
  • Assess potential for rohe-based approach to ecological enhancement linked to catchment planning and co-management requirements.
  • Further stakeholder co-ordination and alignment via workshops.
  • Follow up and respond to needs and aspirations information from landowners and mana whenua.
  • Further work on an integrated funding model that looks at improved co-ordination of existing funds, a philanthropic strategy, the role of corporates, applied research investment, and regional development options such as eco-tourism and cycleways/greenways.

Hamilton City pilot

While the successful Waihou pilot has been undertaken in a rural setting, which has delivered valuable lessons and evidence to inform the wider project, a similar pilot was undertaken in collaboration with Hamilton City Council to test the approach within an urban setting.

The results from this pilot resulted in a list of actions which are now being progressed. The report is in the link below:

Hamilton City Pilot Project [PDF, 3.5 MB]


What will success look like?

We’ve been working with an advisory group of external stakeholders as part of this project. Here’s what they say success would look like to them.

My vision of what success would look like includes a stronger economy based on improved environmental services, retention of local populations made possible by more employment, and an increasingly positive view of their future for all residents of the area.” Dell Hood, former Chief Medical Officer of Health – Waikato District Health Board

My vision of what success looks like is physical evidence of improvement to the wairua, education, kōrero linking old and young people, career pathways available to lure mokopuna back to the marae." Chris Koroheke, Māori Agribusiness Manager – AgResearch

My vision of what success looks like is about ecological networks being defined, embraced and owned by the community, natural areas being protected and managed through a variety of mechanisms, of local governance and ownership of the project, of resources being delivered and targeted, and delivery of an environmental enhancement service linked to kaitiakitanga.” - Don Scarlet, Key Relationships Manager – Mighty River Power

My vision of what success looks like is about community capacity-building to restore biodiversity, community agreement around natural capital, understanding of the current state of biodiversity – decline factors are understood, knowing what to do to reverse those factors/causes, making a difference will be long term, and how to find the money and resources to fix it.” - Bruce Clarkson, Dean of Science, University of Waikato

Key contacts

Matthew Vare (Senior Policy Advisor, Science and Strategy)