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Landcare group transforms hidden treasure of Waikato

Rukuhia man John Pretty reckons Lake Cameron is one of the Waikato’s best kept secrets.

“You could ask 100 people on the main street of Hamilton if they’d ever heard of Lake Cameron and I bet they wouldn’t know,” he said.

But while many may be unaware of “the daintiest little peat lake in the Waikato”, for Mr Pretty it is a neighbourhood treasure, a favourite duck shooting spot and an absolute passion.

Mr Pretty is a member of the Lake Cameron Care Group, which has spent a number of years transforming the lake reserve from a weed-choked “mess” into a beautiful recreational reserve.

The group has ripped out weeds, removed nuisance willow trees, planted more than 12,000 native trees, installed seats, created viewing areas and built walkways around the lake complete with bridges over drains.

A stile is being removed so parents can push prams down to the walkways, raised boardwalks are being built over swampy areas, duck shooters are tidying up their maimais and more trees will be planted on the lake’s western boundary.

The care group is also working with Melville High School students to landscape a wedding photography area with a huge established tree as the centrepiece.

Once that’s been done, the group plans to officially “hand over” the reserve to Waipa District Council, which owns the land and has been extremely supportive of the restoration project, helping with funding and resources.

Environment Waikato has actively supported the care group for many years, providing advice and helping to supply about 11,000 native plants through the Honda Tree Fund.

Environment Waikato care group coordinator Bala Tikkisetty said the Lake Cameron project was a shining example of what could be achieved when councils and community groups worked together.

“There are lots of people out there willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into improving their local environment, but they don’t always have the technical knowledge or experience to get things off the ground,” he said.

“That’s where we are very keen to help. Environmental management requires three key factors technical knowledge, resources and commitment. We can help with the first two but the commitment has to come from the community.”

Ask Mr Pretty why he has spent so much time and effort helping to restore the reserve and he finds it hard to explain.

“I’ve got no kids but I just want to leave it to future generations and I think everyone else has the same attitude,” he said.

“It was there a hell of a long time before us and it’ll be there a hell of a long time to come.”

Lake Cameron lies about 10 minutes’ drive south of Hamilton, accessed off Rukuhia Rd.

Like many of the other 31 peat lakes in the Waikato region, it is home to many rare and threatened plants specially adapted for the unique, slightly acidic water conditions. Protected native birds seen at the reserve include the large black shag, pied stilt, whitefaced heron, spur-winger plover and grey warbler.

“Lake Cameron is probably one of the few peat lakes around where we actually have the genuine old rushes that the Maori people used originally for thatching on the hut roofs, just growing naturally in the peat, and we want to preserve that,” Mr Pretty said.

“In 100 years’ time we want people to have school trips down to the lake so people can see how it was 1000 years ago.”

Once farmed right to the lake edge, the reserve was a “blimmin’ mess” before a large-scale restoration effort began more than 10 years ago, “chocka with willows and overrun with stock”.

“You couldn’t even walk down there because of all the blackberries,” Mr Pretty said.

“But when the land around the lake was given to Waipa District Council under new subdivision rules and stock was fenced out the community really got its act together.”

A number of people from the community chipped in, including Rukuhia School students, assisted by the Department of Conservation.

“It was just one of those situations where someone would ring up and say hey, I’m going to do a bit of work around the lake tomorrow, do you want to help?” Mr Pretty said.

“There was nothing hard and fast, no working bees, just good will.”

The group applied for a $3500 grant to buy an industrial mower and Environment Waikato got involved, helping to supply trees through the Honda Tree Fund.

After attending an Environment Waikato networking day for care groups, the Lake Cameron Care Group was officially formed in about 2003.

“The best thing about the project is the support from absolutely everyone who’s been involved,” Mr Pretty said.

“Waipa District Council and Environment Waikato have been 100 per cent behind us and backed us to the hilt. Every time we’ve needed something, it’s there.”

Mr Pretty is very keen to see more people visiting the lake, which covers about 3.5 hectares and takes about 20 minutes to walk around.

“We’ve got a very serviceable little lake now, if you had any little kiddies they’d have a whale of a time here,” he said.

“More and more people are coming to visit the lake because of the way Environment Waikato has created a networking system among the care groups. I occasionally meet groups of people who have come from Cambridge and Te Awamutu and that’s neat. But there are still a lot of people who don’t know about it.”

If you are interested in starting an environmental restoration project, Environment Waikato can:

  • help you organise a morning tea or barbecue with your neighbours to discuss ideas
  • provide technical advice and information
  • help you apply for funding
  • put you in touch with other groups working on similar projects.

Please give Environment Waikato a call on 0800 800 401 for more information.

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