2 ha of wetland, 4 km of riverfront, tens of 000’s of trees

16 Feb 2015 by The Million Metres team queenelizabeth Gisborne

Conservation a natural part of farming for Charlie and Louise Savage

Trees, streams, wetlands, birds and wildlife; if it’s native, Charlie and Louise Savage of Kowhai Nui station want it in every practical place on their farm. They’re well on the way to achieving that which is fantastic news for the waterways in the area.

A 610 hectare sheep and beef farm, Kowhai Nui is situated in the ‘soft-rock’ hill country of Gisborne District, among the foothills of the Raukumara Range at Te Karaka. Being rolling to steep hilled farmland, significant intervention is required to retain the precious topsoil and stop it washing down the streams.

“While much of the farm is fertile and excellent farming country, some gullies and riparian areas require complete restoration, and pasture requires erosion treatment in the form of spaced tree planting,” says Louise.

Water, water everywhere, and all of it fenced!

Although there are numerous small streams on Kowhai Nui, the most significant waterway is the Waikohu River. Charlie and Louise have four kilometres of road frontage and boundary with the river, and, with the addition of a new 2.8 kilometre fence, stock do not rely on river water anywhere on the farm. A tributary to the Waikohu River is the object of Charlie and Louise’s fund-raising appeal with the Million Metres Streams Project, and is the current object of restoration.  

Formerly a soil conservator with the Gisborne District Council and a member of the East Coast-Hawke’s Bay Conservation Board and New Zealand Conservation Authority, Louise is really keen on conservation-farming practices and encouraging bird life. And with Charlie’s 28 years’ experience of farming at Te Karaka it’s no wonder conservation is a natural part of farming at Kowhai Nui. 

Of the four kilometres of road frontage, significant stretches have been planted by Charlie with native vegetation. In addition there are numerous reserve areas – totaling over 15 ha – ranging from individually-fenced seed-source trees, through to three legally-covenanted areas on the farm, fenced, retired from farming and registered with the QEII Trust.  Last year’s project was the fencing and planting of a “bee reserve” where a bee keeper friend locates his hives.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown is a two hectare wetland that Charlie and Louise created from scratch.  Begun in 1999, the wetland area now contains thousands of native trees and shrubs planted by their family and friends, many over three metres tall.

Restoration a community activity

Restoration of Kowhai Nui has been very rewarding, from a community and ecological perspective. “Over the 20-plus years since we began, tens of thousands of trees have been planted, and every year Lana and Nigel Hope of Native Garden Nursery in Gisborne come for a weekend of planting,” says Louise. The Hopes have supplied thousands of plants for the farm restoration. Many are propagated at Native Garden Nursery from seeds collected on the property by Lana, Louise and the Hope and Savage children.

The farm has also hosted groups such as Forest & Bird's Kids' Conservation Club to learn about planting and soil erosion, and Charlie and Louise have co-operated with neighbours with fencing and planting. As a result Louise has witnessed “an abundance of birds, especially kereru, ducks and pukeko on the wetland. The fenced waterways are now shaded and the water is clearer after rain. The sheep, cattle and horses are contented and relaxed – they have trees for shade and shelter in every paddock".

As with any restoration there have been a few setbacks, mainly plants that don’t survive a dry summer. As Charlie says of the trees he plants, “it’s survival of the fittest”.  However, he has been known to increase the odds for some special trees, such as pohutukawa and puriri around the wetland, by molly-coddling them because he would really love to have them thrive there.

A tributary of the Waikohu River this autumn’s focus

Meantime this autumn, riparian planting work will continue, working towards the goal of enhancing the selected stream. This one was chosen because Charlie has already completed extensive soil conservation work in its catchment, and a significant length of the stream is within a 3.9 ha QEII reserve, therefore already protected legally and from stock by over seven kilometres of fencing. There is existing native vegetation in the reserve, but it was formerly grazed, so the goal of the planting is to enhance, fill in the gaps and restore more species diversity to the stream catchment. The riparian planting will further beautify what is already a very picturesque view of the reserve from the road.

Thanks to our generous donors – you! – already Louise and Charlie’s project is one fifth of the way towards its funding goal (715 metres or $25,740 to go). Now we need to build some momentum to get this project fully funded. You can help by telling your friends about the Million Metres Streams Project and asking them to donate.