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Published: 2007-05-25 00:00:00

Project Watershed soil conservation work is starting to bear fruit, spelling good news for the region’s farmers.

“Farmers told us they wanted measured, well documented outcomes for Project Watershed and we are now in a position to release some early results,” Environment Waikato Catchment Services Committee chair Andra Neeley said.

“Each catchment is different but we’re seeing some common themes. Stream banks are more stable, there’s less bare soil on hill slopes and there are more trees and shrubs protecting our rivers and streams.

“We’re clearly seeing that soil conservation plantings, when they’re done correctly, are stabilising the land and reducing the amount of sediment that can potentially reach our waters, and that’s really encouraging.”

Project Watershed, an Environment Waikato initiative, seeks to deal with soil erosion, river management and flood protection problems across the Waikato River catchment area.

The regional council can provide grants of up to 35 per cent to help farmers to fence off their waterways from stock and plant trees to reduce erosion and improve the management of rivers.

The scheme was launched in 2002 and covers 1.4 million hectares of Waikato land draining into the Waikato River, from Taupo down to Port Waikato. It focuses on catchments with erosion and sedimentation problems.

Environment Waikato soil scientist Dr Reece Hill has been measuring the effectiveness of Project Watershed works in the Waipa, mid and lower Waikato areas, using a combination of aerial photography and field surveys.

“The monitoring programme is still in its early stages, but already we’re seeing improvements on the ground.

“We can be pretty confident the work we’re doing is making a difference – stream bank stability has doubled in some areas, which shows how effective fencing and planting can be.”

Cr Neeley encouraged farmers who wanted to find out more about soil conservation to call Environment Waikato on 0800 800 401.

“Our land management officers will be happy to talk you through the options and provide the expert information, advice and support you need to get started,” she said.

Pokaiwhenua and Mangare streams improve under Project Watershed

The Pokaiwhenua Stream catchment, near Putaruru, and the Mangare Stream catchment, which drains into Lake Arapuni, are emerging Project Watershed success stories.

“Both catchments show strong signs of improving health where works have been implemented by farmers and Environment Waikato,” Environment Waikato soil scientist Dr Reece Hill said.

“In the Pokaiwhenua catchment, there is about 45 per cent less bare soil in areas of unstable land that have been fenced and planted, compared with areas that have no soil conservation works.

“Along the Pokaiwhenua Stream, the area covered by trees and shrubs and protected by fences increased by about 50 per cent between 2004 and 2006. In these soil conservation areas, stream bank stability has increased by about seven per cent. Most of this improvement is showing where vegetation has overtaken grazed pasture.

“Similarly, planting and fencing along parts of the Mangare Stream has shown dramatic improvements, with a doubling in stream bank stability.

“In Mangare, only about five per cent of the stream bank we monitor was fenced and planted in 2004. By 2006 that figure had risen to 39 per cent, thanks to an impressive effort by some very proactive farmers.”

Dr Hill expected to see a range of benefits as Project Watershed vegetation matured over time, including continued bank stability, and improvements in biodiversity, stream ecology and water quality.

Heather and Tony Edgar, who farm in the Mangare catchment, got involved in Project Watershed because they wanted to protect the environment for wildlife and for future generations.

“We want to look after the land – it’s the life blood of the country and if we don’t look after it the economic impacts will be devastating,” Heather said.

The soil conservation work they have carried out will improve a trout spawning area on their farm and will help to improve water quality in Lake Arapuni, where they waterski.

Heather said the farm also looked more attractive with trees and flaxes growing beside the stream and encouraged other farmers to get involved in Project Watershed.