The Waikato region has a fascinating and beautiful ecological past.
Through the hard work and dedication of volunteers, conservationists, councils and government, excellent work is being done in the area of ecological restoration.
Hamilton City Council currently has 17 restoration projects in and around the region, ranging from weekly restoration of neighbourhood sections, like the Riverlea Environment Society, to large public events like Arbor Day, which I had the privilege of attending earlier this year.
In 2018, volunteers spent over 7000 hours assisting with restoration projects, planting over 30,000 native plants.
The fantastic work achieved by those involved in these projects is clear to anyone who takes a walk through the sections.
This coalition Government has a goal of planting one billion trees over 10 years, across a diverse range of species. We are well on the way to achieving this goal.
Maungatautari, a 40-minute drive from Hamilton, is the nation's largest ecological 'island'. With over 3400ha of predator-free land and approximately 30 native species within its boundaries, this sanctuary clearly demonstrates the value our region puts on our native environment.
When I visited, I was impressed by the scale of this project, including the fence that surrounds the entirety of the site.
Visitor tours provide revenue for maintenance and further protection of our native species.
Closer to Hamilton, the Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park, established in 2004, encompasses 60 hectares of land for restoration, aiming to revitalise the Hamilton basin's ecological diversity.
The project is starting to see major success, with early-planted trees starting to provide canopy closure for natural seeding of native plants.
Focused on reintroducing native birds to the Waikato, Project Halo creates a 20km-wide ring around Hamilton, within which key breeding and feeding sites are actively encouraged and protected from pests.
Hamilton is one of New Zealand's only major cities that can claim a long tailed bat population, the bats being one of two native land mammal species left in our country.
Project Echo, in collaboration with the Riverlea Environment Society, has been monitoring bat numbers, movements and behaviour for a number of years.
Because much of the Waikato was initially wetlands, protecting the 20 per cent of our region still in this condition is of paramount importance.
Three of our wetlands have been recognised as habitats with global conservation value under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
With a goal of developing a National Wetland Discovery Centre at Lake Rotopiko/Serpentine between Te Awamutu and Hamilton, the National Wetland Trust hopes to create a wildlife sanctuary with research, educational and recreational facilities.
Established in 1971, the Otorohanga Kiwi house has been both creating appreciation for our region's native animals, and providing a breeding sanctuary for close to 50 years.
The volume and effort put into conservation efforts in the Waikato continues to inspire me; we owe it to future generations to take a long-term view.
Our natural environment is unique and beautiful, and I look forward to seeing it strengthen, grow and flourish.