New Zealand is not always as clean and green as the image NZ Tourism has so successfully presented to the world. Abundant orthographic rainfall and a varied and dramatic landscape have given this ‘lucky green country’ rare natural beauty. The green persists despite the best unintentional efforts to undermine it.
There are vast plantations of mono-cropped pine trees, serving to further acidify the already acid volcanic soils. Much of the country is planted in grass—familiar to viewers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—and this grass is covered with animals—sheep, stock and dairy cattle mostly. In many places, certainly where we live in the Far North of the North Island, these animals are not fenced from waterways, leading to pugged and broken river and stream banks and abundant erosion. Each time we experience heavy rain our beautiful Doubtless Bay becomes temporarily brown with silt and ugly foam fringes the beaches near estuaries, evidence of pollution leaching down to the sea. This results in damaged shell fish beds and adversely affects the coastal oceanic food chain from snapper to dolphins and orcas. The fisherman is not as happy as he once was. The bay is no longer teeming with the life it had when Captain Cook arrived in 1769 and proclaimed, as legend has it, ‘Doubtless it’s a bay.’
Enter modern day Robin Hood Fred Lichtwark of Raglan Harbour Care, who recently addressed a group of local citizens concerned about the present and future state of Doubtless Bay. Fifteen years ago Raglan Harbour was in a sorry state, rated as one of the most polluted in the country. A study showed it took on average 18 hours to catch a fish.
Fred, an ex-third generation farmer, turned his attentions to the plight of the harbour after a horrendous motorcycle accident partially crippled him and he found farming and commercial fishing just too difficult. Armed with a spade instead of a bow, in the mid-90s he spearheaded the fencing of waterways to keep out stock, propagation of native species and the planting of those hardy seedlings between the new fences and the waterways.
Farmers were initially reluctant to come on board but the success of Fred’s merry band on a demonstration farm in Raglan changed their minds. Something like 30% of the land was retired and stocking rates were still able to be increased. Erosion stopped, the waters cleared, and the health of the animals was restored once they stopped drinking from the very water they had been defecating in. Veterinary bills decreased and farmers made more money. The payback time was quick—just over a year.
The tree propagators and planters had originally been mostly unemployed (Fred referred to some as ‘government surfers’) and some, with little better to do, had been troublemakers. Now, fifteen years on Fred’s team takes great pride in their work and the Raglan police have had to let one officer go—not enough work!
The harbour is far cleaner. It and the rivers and streams feeding it have deepened and no longer turn brown with silt each time it rains. Fred exclaims, ‘I never thought I’d see clear water on low tide.’ Two fish per hour can now be caught (Fred claims he and other locals ‘in the know’ can catch their quota of snapper in an hour) and ecotourism businesses have sprung up like water-based mushrooms to take visitors to experience the dolphins, whales and diverse bird life that have returned to the area now the sea is again teeming with life.
Fred Lichtwark and the rest of the Raglan Harbour Care team have demonstrated New Zealand can truly be clean and green. Let’s hope other areas, including our beloved Far North, cotton on to Raglan’s example, get planting and fencing, and re-green this beautiful land.
For further information and startling before and after photos visit:
Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com
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