One of New Zealand's most recognisable provincial rugby teams, the Manawatu Turbos, did something a little different in the lead-up to this year's national championship – planting trees.
Members of the side cast aside their rugby boots, donned gumboots and dug the dirt to help plant more than 2000 trees and plants around a wetland recently constructed on a 240ha dairy farm run by husband and wife team Richard and Wendy Ridd.
The Turbos were joined in the exercise by players from the province's women's team, the Manawatu Cyclones, and employees of the Turbos main sponsor, Higgins Civil Construction.
Courtney Bond, a freshwater advisor at the Horizons Regional Council, has been working with the Ridds on environmental improvements at their property at Ashhurst near Palmerston North and helped organise the Turbos visit.
"It is the third year in a row they (the Turbos) have helped with planting in the district and shows they are serious about getting engaged with the local community," she says.
Their efforts may result in one or two more fans coming through the gates during their 2021 NPC campaign: "I've always enjoyed going along to watch them and I'll definitely be doing so again this year," says Richard. "We're extremely grateful for their time."
The wetland has recently been constructed in an area of unproductive boggy land on the Ridd farm and is the latest stage of environmental work the couple has undertaken since they took over the farm 10 years ago.
Since 2016 thousands of natives and more than 4km of fencing has been put in along the banks of the 3.5km stretch of Stoney Creek and other Manawatu River tributaries that run through the Ridd property.
"Good water quality and biodiversity are big drivers for us," says Richard. "It provides shelter for stock and helps prevent them causing erosion along the stream banks. But the planting also has an aesthetic value, it looks nice." And, as Wendy says, "we need to look after the land because at the end of the day we are really just caretakers."
Figures produced by Bond show the Ridds have carried out almost $50,000 worth of planting and fencing in partnership with the council over six years. About half of this has been funded by the council through its Freshwater Improvement Fund.
Other plants have been paid for through community grants obtained by the Stoney Creek Catchment Care Group and, in total, Richard estimates more 15,000 natives - including manuka, kanuka, flaxes and carex grass varieties - have been put into the ground.
The Turbos helped plant around the edges of the wetland (which covers an area of about a hectare) while planting inside its boundaries will be carried out next winter.
The Ridds, who took over the farm from Richard's parents, milk a herd of 450 cows on the property located about 4km from the Manawatu River. Run-off from the land is usually only an issue in winter as the creeks normally run dry in summer.
"We've put in a lot of work over the years," says Wendy. "But it has helped being on the journey with Horizons, the relationship with them has been a real key."
In her role as freshwater advisor, Bond is responsible for liaising with local landowners on planting programmes. "I check out the planting sites, make sure the right varieties and number of plants are selected and then source them from local nurseries."
She is one of seven council freshwater advisors and two co-ordinators in the district each of whom work with about 80 landowners a year. "That adds up to a lot of people who are proactive and it is very rewarding when you see the results," she says.
Bond says she also decides where groups like the Turbos will go once she has established which landowners are interested in having their help.
"In the Ridds case, the team put in a good two hours of planting from about 10am on a Sunday morning. They put in up to 2000 plants in that time, before enjoying a BBQ laid on for them by Higgins staff."