A project to create an ecological corridor linking Maungatautari and Mt Pirongia in Waikato’s Waipa district has marked its second anniversary.
The Taiea te Taiao project aims to create the corridor by planting alongside the Mangapiko Stream and its tributaries, on farms and other properties.
A wide range of other environmental work is also underway, including wetlands restoration and predator control.
Creating the corridor will support native birds and bats, allowing them to thrive. The project has the backing of dairy companies, iwi, local and central government and sector organisations including DairyNZ and NZ Landcare Trust.
Project co-ordinator Bexie Towle said the corridor has an estimated 9000 landowners encompassing some 40,000 hectares, with the Mangapiko Stream connecting to the Waipa River at Pirongia.
The farmland along the corridor is filled with numerous drains and gullies connecting to the stream that have been fenced or planted.
Within the 40,000ha are focus areas Towle calls stepping stones, which are areas of wildlife habitat and predator control. Getting landowners on board has been rewarding, with most reacting positively to the project, she said.
“With 9000 landowners, it’s a challenge … it’s a lot of private land and a lot of dairy farms but it’s also an opportunity because these landowners are really connected to their land.”
Around 200,000 trees have been planted over the past two years as part of the project. Nine kilometres of waterways have been fenced to protect them and native trees have been planted alongside them.
The corridor planting is regularly maintained, with weed control across 22ha.
A comprehensive pest management programme includes trap lines and bait station networks on both maunga, and traps on private property.
Towle said the aspiration to change was already present when she started two years ago with many landowners well underway with their own planting programmes.
“While this is our two-year anniversary of the project, this has been an aspiration of the community for a long time.”
The project has its origins in the Lower Mangapiko Stream Care Group, which formed in 2006, which aimed to fence and plant up the Mangapiko Stream.
It evolved over time to become the Maungatautari to Pirongia Ecological Corridor Incorporated Society to support the Taiea te Taiao project.
The society’s former chair, Paterangi dairy farmer Don “Bush” Macky, said he remembers the state of the stream, having suffered the impact of being a dumping ground for milk waste off dairy farms last century.
It had also been clear-felled and replaced with willows, which over time fell into the river, clogging it up.
It started to stink through summer as the water dried up.
Fast-forward to today, and the group has cleared out the willows and replaced them with a different willow species that is less prone to falling into the river and stabilises the banks, he said.
On his own 145ha, 500-cow farm, located at the Mt Pirongia end of the corridor, Macky and his family have planted more than 10,000 trees and plants.
They created a duck pond surrounded by planting and retired 2ha without affecting production.
“We’ve added value to our farm, we’ve added value to our community, we’re helping to protect waterways and it’s a win-win situation,” he said.
While cost and the prospect of retiring land can be a barrier for farmers to get started on a planting project, Towle said once people start planting, they become addicted to it.
“No one has ever regretted it.”
Macky agreed, saying once they start, they buy into the idea.
“I’m a classic example. You just buy in and you think, ‘Man, this is good, this is satisfying, it’s doing something.’”
Towle said she can also assist farmers with the cost of starting and maintenance by looking at various funding options.
The end goal is creating a corridor that enables birds to travel from one mountain to another, she said.
“It’s restoring the connectivity of the landscape and that’s something across all conservation work.”
So far, little “islands” of conservation where native species can thrive have been created, but they are isolated and hard to access, she said.
“Once we have them travelling from mountain to mountain, it increases the resilience of the species and creates an environment where people get to interact with their native species.
It’s not just connecting maunga to maunga but people to nature.”
It also dovetails with national regulations that have been bought in over the past several years around freshwater, biodiversity and climate change.