Catchment groups spread across New Zealand can now present a united front to the government, thanks to the creation of the Aotearoa New Zealand Catchment Communities group.
ANZCC aims to represent the multiple catchment groups that have expanded across New Zealand in the past three years, helping to share resources, identify opportunities for research and have greater input to government policy, said Mandy Bell.
Bell, chair of the Wai Wānaka community catchment group and an initiator of the national group, said the process of establishing the national umbrella group had proven relatively easy.
“This is taking all of the good work that has been done over the last three to four years, much of which started with the Jobs for Nature funding.”
She said all regions in NZ are to be represented, with some aggregation of smaller catchment groups already taking place to come under the umbrella group.
“All groups are facing similar challenges in their catchments, but they are challenges that are very much ‘place based’, and that is why catchment group action is so effective.”
She said the new government’s promise to review the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management means the group’s creation is a timely one to give farmers more input into whatever changes are made.
“Where we have seen regulations failing, we have seen farmers finding solutions, and we need to maintain and build on that conduit with central government for practical and pragmatic regulations.”
She pointed to Significant Natural Areas under the Resource Management Act, slope regulations and wetland management as three areas demanding a more practical approach.
Mandy Bell, chair of Wai Wānaka catchment group, says the newly formed Aotearoa New Zealand Catchment Community group will give a unified, national voice to farmer-led catchment groups, from the bottom of NZ to the top.
Alison Dewes, project manager for Wai Kōkopu catchment group in Western Bay of Plenty, said ANZCC will help the many farmer catchment groups avoid the “fiscal cliff” most face come the middle of next year when government funding will cease for many.
She said a national group may also help better navigate the sometimes restrictive council controls over farmers’ environmental intentions.
“Often the catchment groups also have farmers involved who don’t always follow regional council processes. They often want to go harder and faster with their environmental programmes, but many are frustrated at the glacial, bureaucratic pace of councils.”
Bell said she was encouraged by the presentation by Pure Advantage and WWF-New Zealand of the Recloaking Papatuanuku solution, at COP28 in Dubai this week.
The project aims to restore and enhance 2.1 million hectares of diverse indigenous forest across NZ in the next decade.
“Catchment groups are an ideal vehicle for connecting with that strategy.”
Manawatū farmer Roger Dalrymple – chair of the Rangitikei Rivers Catchment – said having a national umbrella group is important now for catchment groups because most of them employ people who need a level of security that their jobs will continue beyond the three years of funding that runs out soon.
“That model is not sustainable, so hopefully we will be able to work with funders to continue their roles.”
Dalrymple paid tribute to previous minister of agriculture Damien O’Connor, saying the minister appreciated the value of farmer-led catchment groups.
With a new suite of advisers and associate ministers now on board, he hoped they too would see the value in ground-up input on any proposed changes to freshwater policy.
“All the members of groups have different soils and farming systems, but the principles of the groups are all similar.
“And the ability to share resources and ideas is important.
“It has been suggested there are already enough industry groups out there, but this is a group based from the ground up. It has 100% support from all the catchment groups involved.”