Prisoners doing a NorthTec horticulture programme at Ngawha Prison have helped restore a vulnerable Far North wetlands.

Community planting projects in the Far North are benefiting from a NorthTec horticulture programme at Ngawha prison, with inmates growing native plants as part of their National Certificate in Horticulture programme, which helps prepares them for life back in the community after completing their sentences.

The plants are added to the nursery inside the prison grounds, and donated to a range of community projects focused on riparian restoration.

So far this year, 5520 seedlings have been planted, with more than 20,000 donated to the community during the past three years.

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NorthTec runs the level 3 horticulture programme at the prison, as well as programmes in sustainable rural development, where inmates are taught about basic botany, propagation techniques, plant care and maintenance and filling customer orders from the nursery.

The prisoners also grow food crops, with any surplus harvest being donated to community food kitchens and women's refuge organisations.

With the Ngawha area being a rare eco-environment, native plants grown there are especially useful to the Waitangi River catchment area. Plants from the prison have been donated to the Waitangi Cycle Trail being created in the Waitangi Forest by Focus Paihia, beautifying and screening the new trail.

They have also been planted by children from Kerikeri Primary School at its restoration project at Wiroa Stream, and formed part of the Tangatapu wetland restoration project, near Rawhiti.

Sandra Scowen, co-ordinator of the Tangatapu project, said her group of volunteers had spent the past four years planting a four-hectare piece of land, restoring it from a disused horse paddock to its original wetland state.

The group used manuka on the flat, wetland areas, along with flaxes, cabbage trees and tussocky grasses, and kanuka on the hilly areas to prevent landslips. In total, around 20,000 plants had been used.

Ms Scowen said she and her small volunteer group were extremely grateful for the donated plants, as these were large enough to withstand bad weather and pukeko attacks.

A group of 10 inmates had also spent time carrying out weed control and assisting with planting.