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Restoring a wetland, one tree at a time

It is a fine afternoon in a fortnight of rain and every shade of green is shining in the sun.

Ohauiti farmer Andrew Karl, arm outstretched, is detailing the lay of the land.

Ducks slowly glide across the wetland area in front of him and swallows dart back and forth above, occasionally swooping down to skim across the surface.

Cattle grazing off in the distance are reflected in the water, which is a perfect mirror to the landscape Andrew is standing in.

A landscape transformed.

He and his wife Leigh have owned this property in Tauranga for more than 10 years. They are former dairy farmers.

“We’ve really enjoyed the challenges of this property,” Andrew says.

“When we first came here, all the sidelings were covered in gorse. Very unproductive land.”

Livestock also had access to those steep slopes and the swampy wetland area below.

So, Andrew and his family got to work.

They fenced off the marginal agricultural land, removed the pest plant species, and started planting native trees and shrubs.

Henry Whyte, a raised-on-the-farm ecologist, came on board to guide the project.

Henry’s company EcoResto works with farmers and landowners in the Bay of Plenty to identify sections of land that are degraded, unproductive, or expensive to manage, and transform them into sustainable natural assets.

EcoResto also helps farmers and landowners access funding and programmes that minimise costs and generate revenue.

Andrew’s project soon had support from Bay of Plenty Regional Council and the Government’s One Billion Trees Programme.

The wetland area on his farm is now surrounded by harakeke, kahikatea, mānuka, tī kōuka, maire tawake, and other native plants. As a result, Andrew is starting to see a lot more tūī and the odd kererū.

The significance of this restoration work is clear when Henry explains that more than 90 per cent of wetlands in New Zealand have been lost to development.

“They’ve been drained because of agriculture, or rural or urban developments. That type of thing. And they’re pretty important from an environmental standpoint. They capture sediment, they mitigate runoff.”

Henry also points out that Andrew’s wetland project only covers a couple of hectares in total, including the open water.

“So, we didn’t take a whole bunch of the land, you know, the cattle are still here grazing, they’re just up on the flat area where we can get the fert truck in.”

In fact, livestock numbers on Andrew’s farm have stayed the same, with rotational grazing and better utilisation of pasture.

“There’s been no real negative impact on the agricultural side, we’ve just had a lot of improvements on the environmental side,” Henry says.

He says landowners like Andrew know their land; they will identify which parts of the property are not great farmland and are suitable to return to nature.

That was crystal clear to Andrew from the outset. He has many years of experience in the agriculture industry. He is passionate about farming.

Andrew says, being an ex dairy farmer, he of course wanted to get every blade of grass utilised on the property. He wanted to get the most out of the land that he could and grow as much pasture as he could.

“I love animals, and I love seeing what an animal can return.”

However, Andrew is also pragmatic.

He says not only is it hard to maintain good pasture on steep sites, which tend to grow undesirable species such as gorse, but you also have to think about runoff.

“If we've got stock on the steep land, we're going to more likely have more sediment runoff.”

Which takes us back to the beginning, with Andrew standing on the edge of the wetland, arm outstretched, detailing the lay of the land, pointing out the progress, beaming with pride and optimism.

Because, ultimately, Andrew and his family are looking ahead.

“We’ve got to look after our waterways for future generations and that social responsibility is quite important for us,” he says.

“To see this in 10 to 15 years’ time is going to be absolutely magic and, to be honest, now that I’ve finished the initial project, when I come down here, you can’t wipe the smile off my face.”

Fertco is proud to support regenerative planting and regenerative agriculture initiatives throughout New Zealand. You can find out more about EcoResto here.


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