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Wairarapa Farmer wins NZ Rural Wetland Champion 2014 award

Wairarapa Farmer wins NZ Rural Wetland Champion 2014 award

Combining good farming practices with proactive steps to look after the wetlands on their beef and dairy farm, has earned the Donald family in the Wairarapa, the title of “National Rural Wetland Champion for 2014”.

To celebrate World Wetlands Day 2014 (Sunday February 2) the National Wetland Trust and the Department of Conservation (DOC) worked with regional councils around the country to find New Zealand’s most wetland-friendly farming families.

Wetlands are important to maintaining a healthy environment, playing a key role in water purification and flood control. Protecting wetlands and minimising the impact of farming on these ecosystems benefits everyone.

Seven regional councils were keen to recognise and reward wetland-friendly farmers in their region and submitted their nominations to a judging panel.

The judges - National Wetland Trust founder Gordon Stephenson, National Wetland Trust trustee Keith Thompson and Jan Simmons – were impressed with the wetlands conservation work being done by farmers throughout the country.

They named the Donald family as the National Rural Wetland Champion for 2014. They’ve been farming alongside Lake Wairarapa , at Big Haywards Lagoon, for more than 150 years. The judges stated that: “This farm ticked just about all the boxes for environmental best practice.”

Farming and wetland management spans several generations in the Donald family. They’ve been working to protect and restore more than 300 hectares of nationally significant wetlands, on the eastern side of Lake Wairarapa, since 1856.

In nominating the Donald family for the award, the Wellington Regional Council described Jane Donald, daughter Paula Gillett and their family - present and past - as role models for wetland restoration in New Zealand.

The Wellington Regional Council praised the Donald’s ability to marry their farming and conservation of their wetlands.

“Canny initiative and perseverance describe Jane and Paula’s approach to wetland development and protection. This land has been farmed by the family since 1856. During this time there has been a long association with farmers, hunters, conservationists, and local councils. The majority of the land farmed by the Tairoa partnership is protected by a QEII covenant with actively managed
functioning wetlands. “

“Areas of remnant native forest have been and continue to be fenced off with a continuing programme of weed and animal pest control in and around the wetlands. The farming operation is strategic with the beef farming being associated with the wetlands and lakeshore and the dairying occurring inland separated from the wetland complexes. The farm and integrated wetlands provide
a show case for not just protecting biodiversity and water quality but enhancing it in a most practical and innovative way by clever land managers using agricultural tools.”

To conserve their wetlands the Donald family have had the wetlands permanently protected by a QEII National Trust covenant and as part of their farming operation they also:

• keep stock out of waterways and other sensitive areas

• plant native wetland plants to restore habitat

• manage pests and weeds to enhance native wildlife

• design their culverts to ensure fish can move freely

• carefully manage fertiliser and dairy shed effluent to minimise runoff and return nutrients to the land

• use a feed pad to reduce trampling by stock and erosion.

One example of the how Donald’s incorporate conservation into their farming is their use of cattle as weed control agents. They graze open areas in summer to control weeds such as wild tall fescue and maintain waterfowl habitat. This shows that farming and wetlands can coexist. Wildlife and water quality can be protected while maintaining farm production.

Jane Donald has also pioneered aerial application of herbicide to control plant species such as willow and alder which were encroaching on the wetland her father had protected. This is now a commonly used, cost-effective method for ‘hard-to-reach wetlands’. Done correctly, it controls the spread of introduced plant species enabling native plants to flourish. This provides a habit for native birds and other native wildlife.

The Donald farm is proof that this is a recipe for success. Jane and her family have been rewarded for their conservation work with abundant native wildlife in their wetlands. This includes the rare Australasian bittern (matuku), the first record of royal spoonbills (kōtuku ngutupapa) nesting in the Wairarapa, and the highest diversity of native fish species among wetlands in the area.

National Wetland Trust founder Gordon Stephenson: “There’s a heap of initiatives and best practices here, in both farming and conservation. The Donald family are excellent role models for farmers. I’m delighted to see that they share what they’ve learnt on their farm with the wider community.”

Gordon and his fellow judges awarded a Highly Commended Certificate to the Gilder family of Otago for their work to protect wetlands on several Landcorp dairy farms they manage at Paretai near Balclutha. They have had QEII covenants placed on the wetlands and fenced them to protect them from stock. The Gilders are also planning wetland conservation measures on their own recently purchased block.

The judges were impressed with the Gilder’s best practice farming and involving their community and schools in their conservation work. Helen Gilder says, “It’s important to sow the seed of environmental importance into future generations.”

Jan Simmons of the Department of Conservation was delighted at the high quality of the nominations spanning the country. “These farming families show that profitable farming and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand. They are an inspiration.”

World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2, the anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance held in Iran in 1971. The theme for this year’s National Wetlands Day is 'Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth'. Events are being held around the country to celebrate World Wetland’s Day. See for details.

Farmers wanting to learn more about wetland restoration are encouraged to attend the National Wetland Restoration Symposium in Auckland from February 12 to 14. Registrations close on February 6. Click here to register:

The symposium brings together scientists who specialise in wetlands with managers and owners of wetlands to share knowledge about restoring these sites. It’s being held at Unitec’s Mt Albert Campus in Auckland.


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