John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Nationally significant wetland to increase in size

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A wetland of national significance on Papamoa's doorstep is planned to increase in size by a third to provide more habitat for threatened plants and animals.

The addition of 79 hectares to the 243 ha wetland portion of the Kaituna Wildlife Management Reserve has been hailed as helping to heal the land by Te Puke Forest and Bird chairwoman Cathy Reid.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council was working with iwi, the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game New Zealand to manage the project, which would see 45 ha of grazing paddocks in the reserve and 34 ha of adjoining paddocks restored to wetland.

Regional council project manager Courtney Bell said the project was at the concept stage and proposed to return water flows to the paddocks accompanied by planting native wetland species.

The reserve's wetland was a tiny remnant of swamps that once made up most of the coastal strip north of Te Puke, from Te Maunga to Pukehina.

Ms Bell said 98 per cent of freshwater wetlands in the Kaituna catchment had been drained since the 1800s. "By adding to the largest wetland remnant in the area, we'll be able to bring back wildlife and provide better opportunities for people."

The Kaituna reserve had outstanding wildlife values and ranked as nationally significant because of the habitat provided to threatened and vulnerable species.

Extending the reserve and restoring the wetlands were part of key council projects within the Kaituna catchment. Others were the Kaituna river re-diversion, the Maketu Estuary enhancement project, creating 100 ha of new wetland and developing a regional park in the lower Kaituna area.

Kaituna Catchment Manager Pim de Monchy said the Department of Conservation supported the restoration proposal and there had been positive informal discussions with landowners and tangata whenua about restoring the adjacent 27 ha held by the Office of Treaty Settlements and seven hectares in private ownership.

Mrs Reid said the plan was a great idea because waterways had become so badly polluted from farming practices that more land needed to be returned to wetlands. "It is the only way to heal the land."

She said the area's heavily drained farmland was not good for dairying or kiwifruit orchards. The orchards had been hammered by Psa because they had their feet in water and the area was susceptible to frosts. And cows compressed the boggy soils, ruining bacteria and other little life forms in the soils.

"Every way, it is the worst thing."

Worldwide studies had shown that the highest concentrations of life in any piece of land occurred in wetlands, she said.

Mrs Reid would like to see the 1 per cent remnant of the Bay's original swampland increased to 10 per cent. "People were ignorant then, but we are not now. Now is the time to do the right thing."

A public meeting was held in Te Puke last night to get feedback on what people would like included in the project's planning mix.

Community benefits of enlarging the reserve:

* Nature walks and bird watching

* Game bird hunting and whitebaiting

* Cultural practices like flax harvesting and eeling

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