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Thousands of native plants in Motu project

Making things happen in a practical, hands-on fashion is what farmers do best.

In a world where the common theme, when discussing the environment, is to ponder which new set of rules should be applied to protect it, it is heartening to know that up and down the country many rural people are quietly getting on with business of improving what they can, within their own sphere of influence.

Such people can be found in the members of the Motu Catchment Project, who last week met at the Matawai Fire Station to celebrate having passed their project half-way milestone and to take stock of the opportunities for further environmental work.

The project participants are all farmers, encompassing 13 farms from the headwaters of the Motu River, to the lower reaches at Motu Falls.

Collectively farming 9700ha of land, of which over 1000ha is native bush or scrubland, providing native habitat for wildlife and protecting the steepest slopes and more remote reaches of the Motu River catchment.

With some of the most versatile soils in Tairawhiti and having the benefit of comparatively reliable rainfall, Matawai and Motu districts can be recognised for the high proportion of quality farmland, known historically to produce some of the best farmers and farm performance in the region.

It is probably not front-of-mind to the ordinary passers-by, the extent to which hill country farming is able to contribute to the regeneration of our natural ecosystems.

But as the custodians of vast areas of land, farmers are uniquely placed in having both the resource (land) and the means to bring about real changes in a practical and meaningful way.

The Motu Catchment Project is less than one year old and yet already the river riparian fencing (on farms within the project) has extended from 22km to 27km and rising.

Some 10,500 native plants have been planted in erosion-prone areas and along riverbanks, with a further 16,000 to be planted by the end of winter, and none of it under the shadow of a “big stick”.

The support and funding provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries has proved a critical enabler, allowing farmers to retire areas of their land and treat them with native plants or stabilisation plantings, in areas which might otherwise have proved prohibitively expensive or complicated to address.

The ability to bring like-minded farmers together under a positive scheme such as the Motu Catchment Project and to see them realise the type of real-world conservation work that will benefit the river and its ecosystem for years to come, is a credit to the community.

It is also a vivid example of the way enduring change comes about, led by grass roots communities who understand the landscape, the soils and the river.

There is no person more motivated to protect the land, than the person who has invested something of themselves into it.

The project is inviting expressions of interest from Matawai or Motu farmers and landowners interested in joining a second phase of the project in the coming year.

Expressions of interest can be emailed to lilian@allegrow.co.nz or kerry@allegrow.co.nz

The Motu River. Picture supplied