Friday, December 8, 2023

Catchment groups get tools to last

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Resources pitched at groups at every stage, from beginner to established.
Catchment groups have become significant in future land management, and many are seeking more tools to help them either establish or remain in place once funding has ceased.
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A catchment group “tool kit” developed in a partnership between New Zealand Landcare Trust and Our Land and Water promises to help groups get and maintain their direction and momentum.

Due for release at this year’s National Field Days in June, the tool kit comes at a time when many farmer-led catchment groups are facing a “where to” moment as they come to the end of their funding period.

Bridget Jonker, NZ Landcare Trust national catchments manager, said there are now 197 groups registered with the trust, at various stages of development.

“Some cover quite large areas and are really well established, while other may be really quite small, and only just starting out. The tool kit is an amalgamation of our extension work and pulling in some of the practices Our Land and Water has developed.”

For catchment groups at the start of their journey, the kit includes research-backed advice including practical tools and resources for group activities such as water sampling, for example.

Guides to establishing groups including legal advice on incorporating a group or society are also included. 

“You have these groups that may have initially been formed over a couple of beers and thinking about ‘What can we do?’, and they have morphed into these really effective, high-profile groups.”

She agreed that a number of groups have received some significant government-backed funding in recent years as the value of catchment groups for initiating change started to be recognised in Wellington.

“But having those dollars is one thing, but knowing how best to spend it in the right way can be a challenge. Ministry for Environment and MPI have put a lot of investment into catchment groups over the last few years. A lot of that funding is quite time limited, to three or five years, and at the core of it is the need to maintain those relationships the groups establish.”

For groups at the intermediate stage of their existence the kit provides resources to help them refine their plan and approach, once some credible projects are lined up.

Jonker said for groups that are more established, the kit includes resources to help them push beyond their funding period.

“A lot of these groups are at the point where they may be partway through funding and a now asking ‘What happens next?’

“They will have the infrastructure and the human skills and capacity all there  now, maybe a website, and they would like to maintain the group and keep relationships going. Finding ways to sustain the work without being too reliant upon a single funding source is needed.”

Our Land and Water is also funding work investigating sustainable funding options for catchment groups to consider in the future. Jonker said these could include crowd-funding initiatives, or possibly even bio-diversity credits to generate income in the future.

For groups that are well-established, the kit includes guides to future-proofing the group and creating long-term catchment plans, and advice on getting monitoring programmes in place.

The release of the tool kit is a timely one in light of results from a recent Cawthron Institute survey. 

It found a need for groups to have clearer action plans around what it is they want to achieve, outlining their goals and strategies to do so.

The study, also funded by Our Land and Water, looked at how groups can be better supported and encouraged to protect waterways.

Jonker said the tool kit will provide a means for groups to have more direct contact with people who have the expertise.

“One of the major things that came out of the survey was having those relationships and having people to talk to. Often landowners just want to pick up the phone and talk to a person who can offer advice and support, someone who is apolitical and who can point them in the right direction.”