Southern catchment groups hailed as leaders in field

Sarah Thorne
Sarah Thorne
The South is taking the lead in the formation of local catchment groups to improve water quality and the environment, says Sarah Thorne, project co-ordinator for the NZ Landcare Trust in Southland.

''Other areas are closely watching the progress of bodies such as the Pourakino catchment group and larger-scale projects such as Aparima Community Environment [Ace] Project,'' Ms Thorne said.

The NZ Landcare Trust is an independent, non-governmental organisation that was established in 1996. Its goal is to bring together and work with stakeholders, local and national government organisations, community-based groups and volunteers on sustainable water and land quality.

The trust is funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries, Environment Southland, Beef + Lamb NZ and the deer industry.

A key focus at present is river catchments and the work of farmer groups to address local environmental issues.

''We want to help and encourage farmers and landowners to review and improve their land management practice,'' Ms Thorne said.

''This includes planting trees, protecting waterways, controlling pests and fostering native flora and fauna.''

The trust had a wide and deep information base, as well as extensive networks and ''we want to make these available to bodies such as catchment groups to support their activities''.

''The launch of Ace, which involves six Aparima catchment groups, Pourakino, lower Aparima, Orepuki, mid-Aparima, upper Aparima and Waimatuku, is the next evolution of these community projects.''

Her role supporting the different catchment groups varied as each group was unique.

''Some groups are informal or just getting under way, while others such as the Pourakino catchment group were well under way in their community.''

There was a need to help farmers identify action they could take and assist them in getting ready for change.

''Farmers tend to trust other farmers, so it is important to get them talking and encourage an effective transfer of knowledge.''

One of the big challenges was that almost all the groups relied on volunteers, meaning there was a real need to take every opportunity to share the load, she said.

Ms Thorne worked for the Department of Conservation for 14 years, and was involved in the Waituna Wetlands project.

Her main takeaway from her time at Doc was that the key to progress on the environment was for people to work together.

''The community is full of people with ideas of how we can better address our environmental issues and there is a need to support and empower them so we can make progress,'' Ms Thorne said.

Demands around the environment, were only increasing, she said.

''Making progress will require resources and funding and one of our roles is to work with to explore possible avenues.

''We need to focus on projects that add value, especially as the demand for money in this space will only increase.''

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