Landowners from the Pirihima Whanau Trust started work yesterday to stop sediment and nutrients running off their farmland and into Te Awanui Tauranga Harbour, and to improve local water quality and wildlife habitat.

Pirihima Whanau Trustees, representatives from Nga Potiki Resource Management Unit, and staff from Bay of Plenty Regional Council gathered near the Waitao Stream mouth yesterday to bless the site and make a start on planting a 3.5 hectare area of wetland adjacent to Te Tahuna o Rangataua (Rangataua Estuary), near Welcome Bay.

"Grazing stock were removed from the wetland about six months ago. Yesterday's planting was just the beginning of our work to protect and restore the harbour margin; we'll be putting about 10,000 native plants into the area in the next three years. The Ngā Potiki Resource Management Unit is co-ordinating that work for us," said Pirihima Whanau Trustee Colin Reeder.

"The Awa o Te Waitao (Waitao River) is a cultural icon. It has served as a pataka kai (food store house) that provided sustenance for generations of our Nga Potiki and Ngati Pukenga whanau. It is remembered for the shoals of mullet, herring, flounder, eels, kokopu and ducks that were once harvested from its waters in better times.

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"A bend in the river just below Tahuwhakatiki marae is called Te Hopua where generations of our forebears who attended the then Papamoa Native School (later Papamoa Maori School) learnt how to swim. Unfortunately, farm run off further upstream and other types of human activity over the past 70 years have taken a heavy toll on both the river and Te Tahuna o Rangataua".

"We want our mokopuna (grandchildren) and all mokopuna to be able to enjoy a healthier harbour. We want these future generations to enjoy Te Awa o Waitao and Te Tahuna o Rangataua that are bursting with wildlife. With Regional Council's support we're able to lead by example and take the first step. It is an exercise our kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and doing the right thing on the land that we own," Mr Reeder said.

The Waitao wetland including the area to be restored which is on the true right side of the stream. Photo/Supplied
The Waitao wetland including the area to be restored which is on the true right side of the stream. Photo/Supplied

Bay of Plenty Regional Council was providing planning and financial assistance for the project as part of its work to care for the Te Awanui Tauranga Harbour and its catchment.

Regional Council Tauranga Harbour Catchments Manager Sarah Omundsen said that the project builds on waterway protection work already underway throughout the Waitao catchment.

"With our assistance, upstream landowners and Waitao Landcare Group volunteers have already fenced and planted many kilometres of Waitao stream margins. It's awesome to now be able to support Pirihima Whanau Trustees and Nga Potiki in their work at the stream mouth," she said.

Regional Council offers practical advice and funding subsidies of up to 50 percent to any Bay of Plenty landowner that wants to reduce erosion and protect waterways on their land.

Interested land owners should contact their local Land Management Officer by calling 0800 884 880 or visit www.boprc.govt.nz/landmanagement for further information.