If you get an invitation to Alana Scott’s family farm near Tirau, you had better pack your gumboots, just in case. It could be the day volunteers turn up to plant 20,000 young native trees and shrubs on the farm – around a natural peat lake considered one of the top 10 sites of ecological significance in the South Waikato. When the Scotts bought the 65ha farm, on which they mostly grow maize and grass but also have some dairy cows, every vestige of native bush was gone.
“We want to recreate the natural biodiversity, improve the water quality and get the native birds to come back,” says Scott, a third-year business management student at Waikato University. Dad had had the idea for a while, but he’s the local vet, as well as owning a deer farm, a dairy farm and another farm as well as this one, so he’s super busy.
“I’m away at university and was talking to him this time last summer and he said he would really like to plant out the lakes. I knew he did not have the time or resources he needed to do it. At Waikato University I’m in a group called SIFE, which is Students in Free Enterprise, and we run a lot of community business and environmental projects in which we try to become a bridge between communities and help people get the resources they need. So we took on this as a trial run to see if we can help farmers co-ordinate the volunteers they need to clear the land and plant it, get the council involved to help with funding and help these projects take off. Farmers are often short of time and volunteers for these projects, and often of money as well.”
Through SIFE, Scott, 20, put together a project team; about 20 volunteers cleared blackberry from around the smaller lake one day last April (the brambles had earlier been sprayed), then the group returned in June to plant 1000 trees and shrubs.
“The plants are all small, but we had an 85% success rate, so in four years’ time it will look spectacular. They look very healthy and we’ve just had more rain. In a few weeks’ time we’ll weed around them, then monitor the area, and we are meanwhile planning a planting around the natural peat lake of 20,000 trees. So the small lake has been a trial run for this bigger planting we intend to do.”
Some financial assistance from the South Waikato District Council for fencing and trees, and some funding for trees from Environment Waikato from money set aside to help farmers meet tighter regulations aimed at reducing effluent run-off, as well as the voluntary labour via SIFE, make such projects much more feasible, Scott says.
“Farmers put a lot of their own time and money into restorative projects – my father has spent thousands of dollars fencing off the lakes and buying additional plants, and so have a lot of other farmers in this area.
“But the one thing they lack is volunteers, so SIFE is thinking about building a website where farmers can create an event, saying what they want to plant, and hopefully we can get people in the area, or even in nearby cities, to come and lend a hand for a few hours. There are people in the cities who would like to do more for the environment but don’t know how to go about it.”
Scott’s father, Ian, estimates his fencing costs at $6-8 a metre, with extra costs involved in preparing the ground. “Clearing the blackberry, barberry and other introduced species often requires a bulldozer.” Then there is the cost of the plants at $3-3.50 each.
The Scotts’ fencing varies from 5-10m from the water edge, and although Alana Scott says the family’s farms are worked intensively to reap the best possible production, the land next to the water is often swampy and steep, so not a great deal of productive land is lost by being fenced off.
Anyway, she thinks the gains will be worth it. “Obviously, it varies depending on the landscape. But if each farmer could separate off a few metres around each waterway and get people and funding to help them plant it out, then we can significantly reduce the amount of nutrients in the water.”