South Canterbury farmers welcome riparian database proposal

A proposal to keep a record of riparian plantings has been backed by South Canterbury Federated Farmers, which hopes the public will be able to see the progress farmers are making when it comes to tackling conservation issues. 

DairyNZ and Niwa are asking farmers to log on to a website to record the work they have done planting out riverbanks -  forming the basis of the National Riparian Restoration Database. 

The aim was to learn more about sites which were at least five to 10-years-old. 

Niwa scientist Dr Richard Storey said there were few case studies in New Zealand saying how long and wide a riparian buffer needed to be, or where it should be located along the river network.

"The survey information we collect will help us determine which characteristics of riparian buffer strips are most effective in improving water quality and stream health," Storey said. 

Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Mark Adams said it was a "great idea" because it meant the amount of work being done by farmers was finally able to be quantified. 

"Those things that we are doing need to be measurable.

"Farmers generally just roll their sleeves up and get on with it, and aren't good at telling their story.

"We can gauge how successful this is and whether it's making a difference." 

Riparian buffers are made up of plants which filter out sediment and faecal pathogens from waterways, stabilise stream banks and enhance biodiversity.

Once the database was underway, the next step will be selecting about 50 sites around the country, and monitoring them over a period of 12-18 months – work that 'citizen scientists', members of the public, will be invited to help with.

Niwa would provide training and equipment, and the citizen scientists would take measurements of stream life, water quality and the physical habitat, as well as recording some of the characteristics of the planted riparian area.

Data would be put onto a website where it will be evaluated by scientists at Niwa and DairyNZ.

Winchester farmer Andy Palmer said he began planting out the land around the north part of Ohapi Creek, which ran through his property, in the early 1990s. Regional council ECan had used his farm as a "pilot" for riparian planting and an example to other farmers. 

There had been a "huge change" in the quality of the water, and the stream attracted birdlife like bellbirds, herons and shags, as well as brown trout and salmon,Palmer said. 

The creek had been studied by ECan, Fish and Game, and and Lincoln University.

He supported having a database as hopefully it would provide hard evidence that riparian plantings made a difference. 

"The data is key, really. Unless you can actually prove it a lot of people don't believe you." 

Palmer had even won a "balanced farm" environment award, he said. 

He began planting partly because he wanted his children to be able to enjoy the creek as he had when he was a child, fishing, and playing in the water. 

Palmer believed most farmers around South Canterbury were carrying out planting now to some extent, and the ones who were not were in the minority. 

Planting was a learning curve, and he had learned over the years to do small bits at a time. The first three years was the hardest. 

Adams said if South Canterbury people became aware of the extent of the work farmers were doing, they would not necessarily be surprised, but he thought they would be pleased. 

"I can't speak for Federated Farmers at a national level, but at a provincial level, yes, I am very supportive."