Two environmental projects in the Waitotara Valley are being hailed as models for the rest of New Zealand.
Ngamatapouri School and Ngamatapouri Land Company were among 17 Taranaki Environmental Award winners announced on October 10. The awards are run by Taranaki Regional Council (TRC).
Professor Bruce Clarkson, one of New Zealand's leading experts in ecological restoration, told the awards ceremony the "people power" shown by the winners was an example to the rest of the country.
"It provides a model for uniting a community together to restore ecosystem health at a region-wide scale, including freshwater health, native habitat and wildlife protection, and wetlands protection."
Ngamatapouri School was awarded for using innovative technology to understand the local environment and to inform its community, with the citation saying: "The 12 pupils at this remote school are working as scientists, technical innovators and researchers as they come to grips with their community's No 1 threat, flooding, and water health.
"With funding support from the Curious Minds citizen science project, they're using drones and digital technology to help them monitor the state of the Waitotara River and develop a local flood warning system.
"Students have learned correct operating procedures so they can conduct regular drone surveys of the river. Combined with data they collect manually and the TRC's monitoring data, this is giving them detailed knowledge of factors affecting the river's quality and flow.
"Now they're working with a technical specialist to develop a digital alert system for use by the whole community.
"Pupils are also learning about the river's cultural and historical significance."
Ben Plummer, of Drone Technologies NZ, taught the Ngamatapouri pupils to use a drone to monitor water quality. He received the environmental leadership in business award for that and other work in the region.
Scott and Julayne Thompson, of Ngamatapouri Land Company, were awarded for environmental leadership in land management.
"[They] keep the environment in clear focus as they develop the production potential of their leased 2700ha Rimunui Station in the Waitotara Valley, where sheep and beef graze on 610ha of pasture.
"Under their TRC farm plan, they've already planted more than 5000 poplar and willow poles to stabilise grazing land and provide shade and shelter for stock.
"They've also worked with many agencies and the landowner to permanently retire more than 800ha of native bush, mānuka and land suitable for reversion. This provides diversified income from proposed long-term carbon offsets and mānuka honey production.
"The Thompsons have done most of the 13km of fencing themselves. Wetlands are also being fenced and planted to protect and improve native biodiversity. Ngamatapouri School has been involved with wetland planting."
The Taranaki Regional Council has been running the annual environmental awards for 26 years.