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Published: 2013-02-21 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council says significant growth in the numbers of community groups and schools becoming involved in environmental protection is a very healthy sign.

The number of Landcare groups involved in land management has swollen to 45 since the first Waikato one got going more than 20 years ago, while nearly half of Waikato schools are now involved with the Enviroschools programme, the council’s resource use and environmental monitoring committee has been told in a series of reports.

“It’s really heartening to see the numbers and range of community groups and schools who are working with us to protect the environment generally and to spread the message about environmental sustainability,” said committee chair Lois Livingston.

“If we’re to achieve our environmental protection goals in the region, it’s essential that the regional council, district councils, iwi, agencies and the community co-operate closely.”

Besides the Landcare groups and Enviroschools, the reports discussed the council’s waste strategy, business sustainability programmes, and air quality incentives and education.

All have “a strong emphasis on working collaboratively and in partnership with the community and other organisations”, the committee was told.

Landcare groups – which do work such as planting, fencing, and animal and plant pest control – were a significant force for good. Over one year, it was estimated that 12 groups alone did more than 13,000 unpaid hours worth around $170,000. They put in more than 22,000 plants, more than four kilometres of fencing and more than 9,000 hectares of animal pest control.

“Groups appreciate the material assistance, facilitation and technical advice they receive from the council and other agencies,” the committee was told.

The council is also the Waikato coordinator for the Enviroschools programme, which encourages schools to explore environmental issues, take action and work towards becoming sustainable communities. Of 310 schools in the region, 146 were now Enviroschools. More schools were wanting to come on board, while the Waikato Kindergarten Association was now funding the Enviroschools programme at 16 kindergartens and three Educare centres.

The Waikato River Authority had just provided $147,000 for the Trees for Survival growing programme in 15 schools. This will help lead to the planting of more than 12,000 trees besides waterways. “We have integrated the Trees for Survival programme together with the Enviroschools programme to offer more significant opportunities for environmental action across the region,” the committee was told.

On the air quality front, the council was continuing to educate communities about the dangers of PM10 particles from home fires and other sources, as well as offering financial assistance, primarily in Tokoroa at present, for some householders to change their heating systems. This year the council has been working more actively with local groups on community education.

With waste management and business sustainability, the council has also been working closely with industry and others to improve collective approaches to waste. For example, the council recently granted resource consent for large scale vermicomposting at Carter Holt Harvey Kinleith. This will see up to 135,000 tonnes of industrial and other organic wastes being processed a year. Vermicast generated by the worms will be marketed commercially and potentially used for other purposes as well.

Some 30 marae are involved in the Para Kore programme to divert waste from landfill. “The programme is currently being sought after by other regions including Taranaki and Auckland, and by marae in Ohakune, Matakana and Nelson.”

Cr Livingston said: “Council staff and the agencies and communities they work with deserve a great deal of credit for the progress they are making. It’s by working together that we’ll have the biggest impact on protecting our environment and quality of life.”