Friday, December 1, 2023

Catchment groups need more support and better planning, study finds

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A recent survey found that not many catchment groups had specific objectives they were working towards.
While hundreds of catchment groups have formed around the country, doing good work on riparian planting and pest control, a Cawthron Institute report found these efforts can be better coordinated through having an action plan.
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Catchment groups should consider creating action plans outlining their goals and strategies to achieve to achieve them if they are to realise their full potential, a three-year study has found.

These plans also need to monitor the group’s progress to enable members to report to their community and local government, the study by the Cawthron Institute found.

The study, funded by Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, looked at how these groups can be better supported and encouraged to protect waterways and came up with 30 recommendations.

Recently, Cawthron Institute social science manager Jim Sinner outlined the findings in a webinar.

“Catchment groups should report occasionally to Tangata whenua, local communities and councils on their progress against freshwater outcomes that are in the NPS and regional plans to help build community trust that catchment groups are actually responding to those desires and aspirations of their community,” he said.

Developing such a plan was also a good first step to see if the group had the capacity to deal with larger issues, such as over-allocation.

A recent survey found that not many catchment groups had specific objectives they were working towards. Sinner said this suggested that the number of groups with action plans was low.

Not having a plan gave central and local agencies less confidence that catchment groups could achieve their outcomes.

“You’re going to get more regulation and you’re going to keep going around in this circle of regulation and pushback and not making much progress.”

Solving freshwater issues required a collective solution and catchment groups could have a role in solving that problem.

They were a way to more efficiently communicate with farmers and reduce compliance visits to individual farms and enable farmers to devise their own solutions, he said.

“We also think about catchment groups as being a way to help achieve freshwater objectives without intrusive regulations and thereby avoid the backlash that we get whenever we try to regulate.”

The study found there were many different expectations about what a catchment group could and should do. These expectations are the reason why the true potential of these groups was not being realised and the study aimed to bridge these different expectations of the groups involved.

The study also found that central and local agencies should support catchment groups’ relationship work. This could be achieved by funding group coordinators.

It also recommended that freshwater policies should be designed in a way that recognises and rewards catchment groups that coordinate members’ actions to achieve catchment-scale outcomes.

 “We would like to see policy that says, if a catchment group is implementing a credible plan to meet community aspirations and water standards, their members will face fewer regulations about specific farming practices, because they’ve got a local solution that will work for their land and waterways,” he said 

Hundreds of catchment groups have formed around the country and many are doing good work on riparian planting and pest control. However, these efforts could be better coordinated.

“We have a lot of farmers doing good things individually, but if they aren’t coordinating their actions, if they aren’t asking what is needed across their catchment to achieve the outcomes the community expects, there is a very real risk that the outcomes will fall short.”

It also recommended that Tangata whenua should consider hosting catchment groups at the local marae to strengthen relationships and explore ways of working together. 

Sinner suspected that it was only a minority of groups had strong relationships with Tangata whenua and believed this was because of anxiety from both groups.

“Farmers might not know what to do and how to approach Tangata whenua, and maybe the opposite is true as well.”

Sinner said the answer was to start that conversation with the local Marae.

“Have a cup of tea. Just getting that conversation started will make you realise that you have a lot in common and relationships can build from there.”

He said that groups need to keep building relationships keep developing an action plan to achieve their objectives.

“Get funding, pay for a coordinator and report regularly to your partners in the wider community.”

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