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The power of planting

A planting project at Gladstone’s Kourarau Dam aims to bring all interested parties together on the same side, writes Beckie Wilson.

Two farmers who decided to be ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’ to proposed legislation that would see stock excluded from waterways, are keen to see where their environmental-community project will lead.

David Blackwood and Mike Murray’s farms surround the Trust House owned Kourarau Dam near Gladstone.

Recently something caught their eye in the Proposed Natural Resource Plan by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The proposed plan said that the land and water surrounding the dam was classified as significant by mana whenua, and it needed to be protected.

As a result, stock had to be excluded.

Mr Blackwood is a fifth-generation farmer running the 1500 acre Hinewaka farm.

His home and woolshed overlook the Kourarau lake, which still produces electricity for the equivalent of about 400 homes.

The scheme consists of two small power stations each fed by a small reservoir formed by the damming of the Kourarau Stream.

Mr Blackwood said he thought the only practical step was to fence the waterways off, but the cost would be huge not to mention it would be an “eyesore” with the long grass growing in between.

“But the real problem was the access for recreational users,” he said.

The dam attracts mainly fisherman and the odd swimmer.

So the regional council, iwi, neighbours, fishermen and Fish and Game formed a group and met to discuss possible solutions that would benefit them all.

The group came up with a three-stage project after they all they all agreed the area was significant, including the streams, wetlands and the lake.

“For it to succeed it needs to be driven by the people it effects,” Mr Blackwood said.

Stage one was to fence off other parts of the land and stream that weren’t already, and hold a planting day – “and it grew from there”.

“We thought, let’s be proactive before legislation made us, and see where it can lead.”

They held a planting day at the end of May where about 50 students from Gladstone School came along to help, spending the day learning about the environment, Maori history of the area, and planted nearly 2000 native plants.

CAPTION: David Blackwood with a Gladstone School pupil on the planting day in May PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“We got together with the school and thought it would be good learning for them,” Mr Blackwood said.

The group hopes to finish the first stage by the end of June with stage two to start next year.

That will see the removal of poplars and willow trees on the lake side along Mr Murray’s driveway, and more wetland planting.

Stage three would be to protect the streams and springs that flow through about eight neighbouring properties.

“We hope that we can fence off around the stream through the other properties.”

Parts of the stream had already been fenced off for the safety of stock and farmers.

“It means a problem for us farmers as it cuts off water for the summer [for stock].

“But we think it’s worth-while in the long term… and we would rather be proactive than reactive.

“I’m not going to gain anything for the farm but I know I’m doing something good for the environment,” Mr Blackwood said.

He admitted it took the looming legislation for it to happen.

“We may not have done anything if it didn’t come out in the plan.”

Other farmers were already taking similar steps, but this was more of a community project, he said.

Greater Wellington Regional Council land management advisor Josie Winters said the work done by the group could be used as an example for other landowners.

“It’s been really good to work with everyone and I’m keen to see how it’s going to go,” Miss Winters said.

The Proposed Natural Resource Plan regarding stock exclusion did not mean everything had to be fenced-off, but required stock to be excluded from waterways by mid-2018, she said.

The regional council is acting as support for the group to help achieve their goals.

All the native plants were subsided by the regional council and Fish and Game, and were tailored to the environment of three categories: dry, wetland and riparian.

The warrior and the taniwha

The rolling hills and land surrounding the Kourarau Dam near Gladstone is rich with Maori history.

Kahungunu ki Wairarapa environment manager and Hurunui-o-Rangi chair of trustees Ra Smith was approached by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to identify land that was seen as significant to local Maori.

“We wanted it to be recognised by the farming community, and the farming group wanted to understand why we thought their land was significant — and they agreed with us.”

Maori history says the hills were known as a place to escape to, the home of a taniwha, and a lookout point.

The hills were a place to go if enemies were on their way to the area, especially because the hills were far away and covered in forest, he said.

A legend of a taniwha, called Ngarara Huarau, says that he lived in the waters of the hills and would kill local Maori.

Despite the local tribes’ offering of gifts to make him stop, the taniwha did not.

So a warrior called Tupurupuru killed the taniwha, and today the hills surrounding the lake represent its dead body.

The hills also offered views that spanned across the valley giving the local people a lookout spot to see who was passing through.

During the Musket Wars in the 1830s the Maori people came back to see if they could recapture the land, and used the hill top to see where the invaders were living, Mr Smith said.

There are so many wins for everyone involved in the project.

Everyone thinks it is a special place, which is “a bit of a break through”, he said.

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