Southland farmers are leading the way in environmental practices and 17 catchment groups are now established in the region. With six more in the wings, and half the region covered, reporter Nicole Sharp looks into some of the achievements to date.

When a group of farmers put their minds to it, anything is possible.

That is how the catchment group idea started in 2013, when some farmers in the Balfour area formed a group.

Next was the Pourakino Catchment Group, which has hit headlines recently for its work in improving water quality in the region.

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Fast-forward to 2018, and there are now 17 groups and six more in the wings.

Two of the catchments - the Waiau and Aparima - are now completely covered by catchment groups.

New Zealand Landcare Trust Southland project co-ordinator Sarah Thorne came on board last year to provide support.

They had all achieved a lot in their own rights, and all operated differently, she said.

''The Pourakino Catchment Group is a charitable trust and the Three Rivers group is looking to do the same. The Lower Mataura group get together when there's a need.''

Each group focused on what worked best for it. While they were all different, they shared the same goal of improving water quality.

The groups were established to identify local issues, understand and improve the water in both rivers and aquifers, and prepare for future changes in policy and regulations.

Some of the groups had accomplished major achievements, from the Three Rivers Group working with Menzies College to restore the Wyndham Wildlife Refuge, to the Orepuki group organising practical field days.

The Lower Waiau group had just received funding from its river liaison group and was completing three projects as a result: a social history video of the river with the Southern Institute of Technology, monitoring isotopes and how the water travels through the landscape, and testing the Orawia for E. coli levels.

The Pourakino Catchment Group has partnered with local iwi, and the Oraka Aparima Runaka is growing plants for sale in the valley.

Rotary clubs in Invercargill are watching the groups' achievements, and are now looking at setting up the first urban catchment group.

''We could easily have 23 groups in Southland,'' Miss Thorne said.

The catchments were established by farmers who identified the area that was important to them, she said.

''This is why it works, because they're passionate about their land.''

Three or four times a year, representatives from each of the catchment groups aim to get together to see what has been happening with other groups.

In the afternoon, councils, industry representatives and a range of other organisations stop by to find out what has been going on within each of the groups, Miss Thorne said.

''Everyone in Southland has an impact on water quality - they're taking ownership. We are all part of the problem and we can all be a part of the solution.''

If anyone was interested in joining a catchment group, or starting one in their area, they could contact Miss Thorne on 027588-5200 or email sarah.thorne@landcare.co.nz.

Southern Rural Life