Plantings transform irrigation lake

Geoff Spark and his family spent two summers planting native trees around the edge of their 500m long irrigation lake. Photo: Supplied by Gina McKenzie
Geoff Spark and his family spent two summers planting native trees around the edge of their 500m long irrigation lake. Photo: Supplied by Gina McKenzie
A North Canterbury irrigation lake has been transformed into an attractive recreational facility, with riparian planting increasing biodiversity and providing a habitat for native birds.

Geoff and Rochelle Spark started work on the dam, at their Eyrewell farm, near Oxford, in 2010 and, while the main purpose of the lake was irrigation, recreation also played a part in the design process.

''Right from the start we designed it with recreation in mind. Being 500m long and 120m wide makes it suitable for kayaking, water-skiing and swimming,'' Mr Spark said.

''We wanted a beautiful place that we could enjoy with family and friends, while also providing water for irrigation.''

Mr Spark recommended starting with a master plan as there were many variables to consider and these needed to be decided before starting work.

''Before you dig the first hole for your dam, make sure you have a design plan and carefully consider what other uses you want for the water and the surrounding area.''

Having a plan meant the pad for the family's lake house, which was built in 2014, was laid when the dam was built, which saved time and money.

Mr Spark said he sought advice on riparian planting to ensure the plants would not cause issues with the dam wall.

''We were advised to plant flaxes and cabbage trees.

''They're natives and have a relatively small root system, so they won't impact the dam wall, which is the key criteria for this project.

''They're also relatively hardy and can survive without watering.''

Mr Spark and his family spread the planting project over a two-year period, with the aim of using the plants to soften the look of the dam and to enhance biodiversity.

Witnessing a wide range of birds return to the area, along with the surprise growth of bulrushes and grasses along the lake edge had been another positive for the family.

''It provides a great habitat for wildlife,'' Mr Spark said.

''We've got ducks, swans, oyster catchers and shags here at different times of the year.

''The bulrushes and grasses grew along the edge of the lake on their own, which adds a natural feel to the lake.''

Work had also started on an area called the ''duck pond'' and a planting project to camouflage a silage bunker.

The family has hosted the New Zealand under-21 kayaking team for practice sessions and will host the ''Oxman'' half ironman in December.

''I am very open to using the lake for public good and I'm a big fan of the benefits of fitness, so when the Canterbury Triathlon Club contacted me about the event it was easy to say yes.

''We'll have around 300 people here and I'd like to encourage local people to get involved, especially farmers and farming businesses.''

-By David Hill

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