Restoration Day Field Trip

“Restoration Day 2022: Kia whakanuia te taiao” is an event run by Greater Wellington in collaboration with mana whenua and local partners.

Events are taking place across the Wairarapa including a field trip on the Waipoua River in Masterton this weekend. On Saturday 28 May there will be a webinar and two field trips in Pirinoa and Wairarapa Moana. Tessa Bunny, the event manager, approached me about having a field trip at our farm at Taueru in April. We agreed to host the day with the theme  “Rural Restoration – on farm native planting, wetland restoration and thinking of the wider catchment”.

We had a beautiful day and after an unusually wet February and March the farm was looking a picture. About twenty of us spent the afternoon on a walk to see three wetlands in varying stages of restoration. Initially we had planned to drive some of the route, but walking gave us more opportunity to socialise and chat. We discussed a range of topics including land use, restoration and poplar and willow planting for erosion control.

Wetland at Hapua farm, Taueru
Photo: Quentin Duthie

The first site we looked at was fenced off about three years ago with some native planting alongside regenerating kanuka. The second site has been fenced off recently and seven hundred native plants will go in this winter. The last site we visited was the largest (about three hectares) and most of it has been fenced off for more than ten years. We are lucky that we don’t have too many pest plants and have only had to remove the odd willow.  When retiring land, stock management and contour dictate where the fence lines will need to go and sometimes small areas of drier terrain are included. We have chosen to plant small woodlots (redwoods or eucalypts) in these areas. Nigel Fleming, the farm manager, spoke of how fencing off wetlands can provide benefits for the farm by reducing stock losses from sheep getting stuck in boggy ground during dry summers.

It's not so long ago that wetlands were being drained, and in the Wairarapa we've lost about ninety seven per cent of wetlands. The remaining three percent of wetlands continue to be under pressure from the impacts of land use and plant and animal pests.

Wetlands are really good at filtering out contaminants, pollutants and fertilisers so excess nutrients can get soaked up and recycled. Plants like raupo and manuka are good at improving water quality. They provide habitat for threatened and at-risk species including eels and mudfish. There can be a benefit for biodiversity. The organic matter that plants like raupo produce encourages large populations of aquatic invertebrates including insects, watersnails, crustaceans and worms, and vertebrates like frogs and birds.

View of Hapua farm looking west
Photo: Tessa Bunny

Wetlands are a key component for water resilience. Wetlands act like a giant sponge and serve to slow water down as it moves through a catchment. Wetlands can “flatten the curve” for water flow by reducing the peak flow rate during a flood. As the flood event recedes the wetland will gradually release the stored water, which means that the catchment downstream won’t dry out as fast. Providing water resilience through methods like this, which work with nature rather than against it, will be essential if we are going to adapt to climate change. Richard Parkes (from Wairarapa Pūkaha to Kawakawa Alliance) talked about how countries in Europe are moving to nature-based methods for flood control.

Local farmer Murray Tomlin shared a fascinating description of what the Taueru district was like when heavily forested in the 19th century. There was a day that the Taueru school had to close because the birdsong was so loud. We finished with more sharing of ideas and experiences over a cuppa back at the woolshed. I’m looking forward more Restoration Day events – take a look at the Greater Wellington website to find out more.

This story was originally published in the Wairarapa Times Age on 19 May 2022