Gore dairy farmer Chris Giles was keen to get a wildlife corridor going along the Charlton and Waimumu Streams. Riparian plantings are now underway. Karen Trebilcock reports.

When Gore dairy farmer, and Southern Field Days volunteer, Chris Giles comes up with ideas they are usually big – the Hokonui Hills to the Mataura River big.

His aim, quickly embraced by the Hokonui Rūnanga, is for plantings of natives along two tributaries of the Mataura River, the Charlton and Waimumu Streams, to form a wildlife corridor between the hill range and the world-renowned brown trout fishing river.

With Environment Southland land and water services team leader Megan Bates also keen, he got the regional council on board and, after a year of planning, the Charlton Waimumu Riparian pilot programme is underway.

Environment Southland is now looking to extend the project across the region, albeit with a different approach to funding. Planting of 10,000 native plants started in November on more than 20 farms along 20kms of waterways including the Giles’ farm and at the 57ha Southern Field Days site which borders the Waimumu Stream.

‘We certainly hope visitors to field days will enjoy the native plantings.’

Dairy, dry stock, arable, deer and small block farmers are part of the project and to be eligible they must have an Environment Southland farm plan completed and the stream must be stock-proofed and fenced off.

The Hokonui Rūnanga is sourcing the seed for the plants locally and the plants are grown at the Milton and Invercargill prisons as part of a long-term programme started by the late Rewi Anglem.

“As the stream boundaries on farms are fully planted, those farms will then leave the scheme and others will become part of it,” Chris said.

“There are 120 farms on these two streams and after that we could do the other tributaries of the Mataura River as well.”

As part of the pilot, Environment Southland organises the planting, including the plant protectors to stop the local hares damaging the seedlings.

However, farmers are responsible for the follow-up spraying, maintenance and replacement of any plants that don’t survive. Pittosporum, kanuka, lancewoods, cabbage trees, tree fuchsias and others have been carefully chosen for their ability to withstand, once established, floods as well as seasonal wet and dry periods.

“This area used to be swamp once and where the field days site is was gold dredged,” Chris said.

Jo Brand, who looks after education and community development at the Hokonui Rūnanga, said the plants grown at the two prisons could not be sold commercially.

“One of our volunteers, Rodney Trainor, collects the seeds for us. That’s his passion. And at the prisons they gain NZQA credits for growing the plants.

“We also involve schools in what we are doing, through Enviroschools, so they can learn about the mana whenua and become involved in the local projects.”

“These plants are eco-sourced – the right plant for the right place,” Jo said.

As part of the pilot, the success of the plantings would be monitored both culturally and ecologically and a regional riparian programme is likely to be scoped following the completion, Environment Southland land and water services manager Fiona Young said.

Chris said the project would not only lower the impact of farming on waterways by creating buffer zones but also create corridors for native fish, birds and insects.

There were also plans for walkways and cycle tracks in the areas.

“We certainly hope visitors to field days will enjoy the native plantings.”