Atop the picturesque hills of Ngarunui Beach in Raglan, Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage joined a small group of environmental volunteers in planting the two millionth tree in a restoration project that has transformed Whaingaroa from a polluted harbour into a thriving ecosystem.
The planting of the two millionth tree signals a major milestone in the project which has been run by a combination of groups and volunteers including the Department of Conservation, local farmers, the Whaingaroa Harbour Care group which includes current Waikato Regional Councillor Fred Lichtwark.
Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage said the planting of the two millionth tree was a massive achievement for the volunteers.
"Planting the two millionth tree crowns 25 years of commitment and partnership involving Whaingaroa Harbour Care, and farmers who've worked together to deliver real environmental success across the Whaingaroa Harbour catchment," said Sage.
"Whaingaroa Harbour Care is a successful community project used as a national model of riparian and catchment management, I'm delighted to be here today to celebrate the collective success and see the results of more than two decades of planning, collaboration and hard work."
Whaingaroa Harbour Care's main focus is on riparian planting around the harbour's reaches, particularly on private farmland within the catchment, to improve water quality and control run-off and sediment.
The non-profit group offers its expertise and resources to the local community for wider conservation and environmental projects and goals, and has been the subject of study and research by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and World Wildlife Fund for Nature.
They aim to stop sediment runoff from land and improve water quality. The group has also undertaken restoration planting alongside the Kaniwhaniwha Stream on Mt Pirongia and around several Waikato lakes; Lake Ohinewai, Lake Serpentine.
"The Whaingaroa Harbour Care founders Fred Lichtwark and Fiona Edwards have placed a great deal of emphasis on engaging with the farming community to create a genuine partnership which results in both positive conservation outcomes and also benefits for the farmers as producers," Sage said.
Farmers who have partnered with Whaingaroa Harbour Care have identified fencing off waterways as resulting in superior livestock standards and an increased ability to farm better land on their properties – leading to improved economic results.
Another positive outcome from Whaingaroa Harbour Care's long-term efforts are improved fisheries in and around the harbour. Locals report growth in the populations of a range of fish, including massive spikes in whitebait numbers.
Whaingaroa Harbour Care's early work began at Wainui Reserve, where it has now planted more than 150,000 individual plants.
"It is entirely fitting the two millionth tree should be planted here," said Eugenie Sage.
"The Raglan community has a strong reputation as guardians for nature and the environment, and the work of Whaingaroa Harbour Care is a terrific reflection of how the people of the town have collaborated and stuck at this important task."