20 Feb 2020

Building bridges in the lower Waikato

From Afternoons, 1:39 pm on 20 February 2020

Waikato farmers Kim and Stu Muir are trying to restore the ecological habitat of their little bit of the river. 

They've permanently retired 40 hectares of farmland and have taken up the arduous task of restoring a native wetland.

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Photo: Stu Muir

It's working, and whitebait, freshwater mussels, crayfish, eels and mullet have all returned to the area. 

Stu is gearing up to build a bridge into the wetland to provide public access.

He's also just become the chair of the Endangered Species Foundation

The tributary of the Waikato River at the back of his farm had become a degraded version of its former self, he told, Jesse Mulligan.

“We’re the main tributary between the Manukau Harbour and the Waikato River and it had become over generations degraded to the state that it was a dirty stagnant horrible remnant of what it once was  - full of willows and glyceria.”

What started off as a small project now encompasses all of the Waikato River delta, he says.

Funding though the Waikato River Authority in 2011 has allowed the project to take off he says, and restoring current which was being blocked by willows was one of the first priorities.

“There was no current, if you can imagine every six feet there’s a willow that has fallen, there was absolutely no tidal flow, it was dead - the fish couldn’t get up there, the whitebait couldn’t get up there.

“As soon as you take out obstructions and you create flow and create current you bring the life back.”

Once you give nature a chance she’ll flourish, Stu says.

“The difference is huge. We had no tui down there, it’s full of tui whitebait, mullet go up there its chalk and cheese."

Stu says neighbours on the river tell him kereru and ducks are also returning in greater numbers.

Stu says he gets great satisfaction from the work he’s doing.

“You’ve got to have a balance, if you don’t do things that make you happy, life gets a bit dull doesn’t it? I get immense satisfaction out of doing that work.

“I won’t see the full benefits in my life time but my kids’ kids will, and we’ve been six generations on this farm so I hope another six will really reap the benefit.”

Pest control has also had a dramatic impact, he says.

“We’ve got about 1500 bait stations on all of the islands in that delta, the community’s got behind it, whoever is in that part of the river I supply them with bait and off they go.”

One of the first islands to be cleared of pests is now flourishing he says.

“One island that I started in 2011, doing pest eradication, there’s more bitterns, fern birds, rails than on any other island on the river and that’s just because they’re getting a chance to survive

“And that will spread, that will just grow exponentially.”