Since it was established in 2015, Pūniu River Care has made a big impact on the restoration of its catchment area - but that is just the beginning.
Pūniu River Care (PRC) CEO Shannon Te Huia was named Local Hero of the Year at the 2021 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards earlier this year, and last week PRC was the inaugural winners of the new award category for Catchment Groups at the 2021 Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
When it comes to catchment management, Pūniu River Care (PRC) are big initiators in the Waikato. They were established to enable local hapū to be involved in the restoration of the Pūniu River Catchment.
They work with rural communities, iwi, regional and central government to implement restoration work at scale and a main part of their work is training people to propagate native plants at Mangatoatoa marae.
These are then planted around rivers, lakes, wetlands and erosion prone land.
The organisation has grown rapidly since its inception.
Shannon says PRC has planted over one million native plants into the Pūniu and Waipā River, fenced 60km of river and expanded its nursery to deliver in excess of 1.5 million plants each year in the coming seasons.
They currently employ 45-50 people depending on workload, and the organisation is committed to building the skills and capability of their team, with a number of young staff members being supported into leadership roles.
Encouraging the next generation is also a priority with an education programme running at the local Wharekura to ensure the ongoing success of PRC, the improvement of the environment and the hope it gives marae throughout Aotearoa.
The BFEA judges were impressed with the engagement of the team at PRC.
"It was very evident that the staff believed in the vision of the organisation and looked to be really enjoying their work," said the judges.
Shannon says the award recognition helps PRC in its five year goal to be self funding and an example of a highly functioning social employer that is leading the way in Aotearoa.
Staff at PRC generally start at an entry level in the nursery or planting sites, but are encouraged to learn and progress in all levels of the operation.
This includes training at NZQA levels 1-3 in horticulture through Primary ITO, as well as roles as managers and supervisors, office support, project managers, cultural advisers, finance, PR and marketing.
One of the aims is to build their own training programme.
Shannon says the horticulture programme is generic, whereas what they will offer will be a specific competency framework for river care and restoration.
"We like to call it the Pūniu River Care way," he says.
"Such a framework would be a first for Aotearoa and we would use the Puniū River as the classroom.
"It would incorporate the tikanga we agree is important and successful for us.
"That would include being marae based, collecting our own seeds, growing our own plants, undertaking our own planting and engaging with the wider community."
He says the programme will help all people to understand what needs doing and that also brings about a sense of health and wellbeing.
Shannon believes nature has shown she is resilient, and if she is given a hand, she will fight back.
"That is what we are doing, and we are seeing the results," he says.
Shannon also thanks PRC partners for being part of their success. They are: Waikato River Authority, Momentum Waikato, Te Puni Kōkiri, Ministry for the Environment, Trust Waikato, Ministry for Social Development and Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust.
PRC will celebrate its successes and share its story with the public at an open day on Friday, May 7 at Mangatoatoa Pā from 10am-3pm To register email firstname.lastname@example.org.