Clean water conversations deliver results

When Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) started their 'Transforming Taranaki' Riparian Management Programme in 1996, conversations with farmers were much the same as they are now – expressing concern about the quality of the water, pasture run-off and erosion. The difference is, Taranaki farmers were discussing these issues 24 years ago, when Kiwis still floated in a clean, green haze.

 

Conversations about waterways in 2020 have impending government legislation adding a sense of urgency. Fortunately, Taranaki is already well ahead of the curve when it comes to fencing off and protecting the streams that cover the volcanic Ring Plain. More than 5.6 million native plants have been supplied to landowners since the scheme began, with farmers purchasing the plants under their overall farm costs.

Dr Elizabeth Graham from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) cites the programme as likely one of the largest and longest running restorative freshwater programmes in the world. It has seen 99.9 percent of Taranaki's 1,800 dairy farms produce riparian plans which cover 15,000km of streambank. Those with plans have fenced 86.5 percent of their streams and protected 73.7 percent of waterways with planting. The programme was lauded for its achievements in the 2019 Local Government NZ Excellence Awards, winning the Air New Zealand Award for Environmental Well-being.

The beauty of the programme is that it has been primarily farmer-led with theCouncil providing  riparian management plans and steady advice. As a result, trends between 1995 and 2018 have shown a 47 percent improvement and no deterioration in river ecology over 57 sites.

 

Land Services Manager for the TRC, Don Shearman, says that the voluntary riparian management strategy was developed in consultation with the public. "Farmers were against regulation because they considered themselves guardians of the land and would fence and plant waterways anyway.

It was agreed that the public would fund the free planning services and ongoing support because everyone had an interest in better water quality." Don and his team stress the winwin nature of the programme – by mitigating the environmental effects of pasture run-off, farmers are futureproofing their businesses while improving water quality and biodiversity at the same time.

Don believes relationships between the Council and Taranaki's farming  community have strengthened as a result of the one-on-one support from Land Management Officers and continued advocacy from Council leaders. In regard to the Government's proposed regulations, the Council is currently tailoring actions to individual  farm circumstances. Don reports that locals are concerned with the Government's plans.

"The region and its farmers over a long time have demonstrated a strong commitment to improving freshwater health through the likes of its riparian programme. The Government's 'one size fits all' proposal for the likes of stock exclusion is not required in the Taranaki context and has the potential to add cost and complexity for no improved outcome," Don says.

 

The Council's riparian programme is now only a few years from completion and the TRC strongly encourages farmers to continue implementing the fencing and planting commitments they have made.

By starting a conversation with farmers 24 years ago, the Taranaki Regional Council has nurtured vital relationships and united the community towards achieving improved water quality, for the benefit of all.

For more learnings from the award-winning regional scheme visit www.trc.govt.nz