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Joint effort to restore Hawke’s Bay’s lost wetlands

Published on Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 09:15

Hawke’s Bay’s farmers, hunters and local authorities are working together to undo some of the centuries of damage to the region’s wetlands and create more wildlife habitat.

Today is World Wetlands Day, an international event to mark the importance of wetlands to the environment, economy and wildlife.

Over the last nearly 200 years of development, Hawke’s Bay has lost nearly 98% of its original wetlands.

Fish & Game’s Hawke’s Bay regional staff are trying to reverse at least some of that damage with an innovative five year plan creating wetlands and habitat that not only will encourage waterfowl, but offer habitat for threatened and endangered species including the Australasian bittern..

Helping with the project are farmers, landowners, hunters, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, QEII Trust and the Department of Conservation.

Fish & Game’s Hawke’s Bay regional manager Mark Venman says people are starting to realise just how many wetlands have disappeared.

“With the loss of such a significant amount of Hawke’s Bays wetlands, there is a need to restore drained wetlands or create new ones.  Over the past year, our staff have been busy working with landowners to get the project moving,” Mr Venman says.

Mark Venman says the project is now Fish & Game’s top priority in the region.

“We are now developing a five year waterfowl enhancement plan focussing on providing habitat for waterfowl broods and creating connecting wetlands that establish habitat between our larger wetlands and shallow lakes.”

Fish & Game Hawke’s Bay Senior Officer Nathan Burkepile moved to the region last year and says the significant loss of wetlands hit him immediately.

“While I was conducting aerial waterfowl population surveys in April last year, we flew over a large number of farm ponds.  They had water but few waterfowl because they were utterly devoid of habitat,” Mr Burkepile says.

“We have a chance to turn that around because with such a large number of livestock watering ponds, there is huge potential to create habitat for waterfowl along with providing clean stock water through strategic plantings and appropriate fencing.”

The new habitat will help all waterfowl, including native species but Nathan Burkepile says there is also an economic benefit to farmers.

“This is a win-win situation for both farmers and waterfowl,” he says.

“Strategic fencing and plantings around stock ponds will not only establish habitat but also provide clean drinking water for livestock.  Research indicates providing clean drinking water will increase livestock weights by five to 25%, which increases profits. 

And farmers are showing an interest.  Over the summer, Fish & Game has been working with seven landowners to restore and create wetland habitat on their properties.

The majority of these wetlands were previously drained and grazed which required the blocking of drains and some land contouring to re-establish.  Funding for these projects was provided through the Game Bird Habitat Trust, Hawke’s Bay Fish & Game funds, and the Wildlife Fund. 

Fish & Game says any landowners thinking of improving wildlife habitat on their properties should contact its Hawke’s Bay regional office for advice and funding help on 06-8442460.