Ducks Unlimited

Change attitudes and improve the environment

The Mangaone West region is typical of many farming districts where remaining indigenous cover is very limited and the balance is in productive farmland.

Into this area a few years ago stepped Ducks Unlimited member Ossie Latham, and his conscious was pricked by the degradation he saw in the waterways near his home.

Growing up on the banks of the Oroua River downstream from Feilding, part of a third generation on both maternal and paternal sides of his family he remembers: “During that time the Oroua had gone from a pristine small river where kids could swim in deep holes, dive off the road bridge, catch eel, trout and flounder, to a gravel choked conduit for industrial, town and farm waste. A dead waterway, the greatest degradation happened in my time as a kid,” said Ossie.

Then came concern for the Manawatu River and its’ tributaries of which the Oroua is one. The Manawatu River Accord was set up and out of that spun the Oroua Catchment Care Group. Ossie attended their meetings and the Oroua Group decided the best way to tackle the problems was to think catchment wide
but act local to address whatever issues may be in any given area. The Mangaone West stream where Ossie and wife Mary live is a tributary of the Oroua. Ossie volunteered to be champion for that area.

As a local champion his job was to gage the support of residents for a collective effort to address issues of farming and lifestyle practises that degrade the environment.

“Once sufficient interest was identified, we called a community meeting and established the Mangaone West Landcare Group.
 
 
 
Knowing that what we do on our land eventually affects water quality in our area
and downstream, we chose to take a holistic view of our catchment and deal with our habitat as a whole, be it farming practises or lifestyle choices.”
 
Ossie said it was fortunate that some residents in the lower catchment had come together 15 years ago and as a group had investigated and in many cases implemented, more sustainable farming practises.
 
This group ran out of puff after four years but two of the group’s successes were a widespread possum control programme that is still going today, and the other was recognising the detrimental effect of pugging by wintering mature cattle on wet soils.

Neil Managh, coordinator of the original group gave his support to Ossie who
then called on the leading farmers in the area, the local school principal, known 
environmentalists, friends and acquaintances and got their commitment to the scheme.

“We organised a community wide pamphlet drop calling a public meeting and away we went,” Ossie said.
 
Is this something DU members should get involved with? Ossie said: “Given that 
whatever we do to our landscape sooner or later affects our wetlands and waterways, I think it is worth DU members thinking about what happens upstream from their favourite dam, wetland or waterway.
 
“The primary benefits are thinking of being more sustainable in what we do for the benefit of the habitat as a whole. This includes the best way to keep our soils in situ, the nutrients on the property and a flourishing diversity of which we are part.”
 
Although initial funding came from the Government through the Ministry for the 
Environment to the Regional Council to the group; they also applied to Trusts with an interest in what they are doing and they asked Landcare to come on board to provide the governance and institutional expertise.

About 60 percent of landowners are part of the group. All major farmers bar two are committed and interest is growing. There is a diversity of views on what best practise is and just what is sustainable but Ossie said they cope with this by agreeing that “Sustainability is the ability of the current generation to meet its needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”
“I’m not sure where I got the quote from but it gained widespread acceptance to what we are on about.

“We recognise it’s taken over 100 years to get where we are now, so we expect our work to improve our chosen living spaces to be intergenerational. While the stream is our common bond, we love our landscape which the stream and we are part off.” 

(Afterthought)
“After doing the question and answer bit for you I got to thinking, what is the key for many of the settler families who are part of our group? Many of them are 3rd and 4th generation; they have a strong sense of stewardship, a concept that is evolving as our knowledge of interdependence grows. It’s good to be part of their efforts.”
 

 

Published in Issue 159
Monday, 19 March 2018 07:11

Wetlands help reduce nitrates (USA)

Agricultural runoff often results in large concentrations of phosphorous and nitrates making their way into local waterways. But new research suggests wetlands can help stem the tide of leaching fertilisers. 
 
In a recent two-year study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, local wetlands helped reduce the amount of nitrates leaking into the Embarras River by as much 62 percent. The wetlands also helped diminish nitrous oxide emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. 
 
“Slowing down the rate of flow of the water by intercepting it in the wetland is what helps to remove the nitrate,” researcher Mark  David, a biogeochemist in Illinois’ College of  Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, explained. 
 
“The vegetation that grows in the wetland doesn’t make much of a difference because the grasses don’t take up much nitrogen,” David said. “It’s just about slowing the water down and allowing the microbes in the sediment to  eliminate the nitrate. It goes back into the air as harmless nitrogen gas.” 
These particular wetlands, between the Embarras River and the surrounding tiledrained agricultural land, were created 20 years ago. And they seem to be doing a solid job of curbing runoff contaminants - an isolated but noteworthy success story. 
 
David says the USDA is interested in new methods for ensuring fertilisers stay put, and don’t accumulate downstream. 
 
Fertilisers like nitrates make their way into America’s waterways and travel downstream. Significant accumulations of phosphorous and nitrates in the Gulf of Mexico have been blamed for massive algae blooms, which give off toxins and suck oxygen from the water - creating large dead zones and wreaking environment havoc. Similar scenarios have played out in the Great Lakes and anywhere major river systems dump fertiliser-laden water into lakes, seas and oceans.  
Environmental groups have been pushing  for regulators to build more wetlands, but farmers are reluctant to sacrifice land that could otherwise be used to grow more crops. Farmers prefer wood chip bioreactors to soak up nitrates from farm runoff, but they don’t do as well as wetlands at stemming high flows. 
 
No one wants to mandate a certain practice - wetlands, bioreactors, cover crops, adjusting the timing of applying fertiliser–all of these things that we know help reduce nutrient loss,” said David. “But, because of this research, we know that wetlands are a longterm nitrate removal method that keeps on working with little greenhouse gas emission.” 
 
“By building a wetland, farmers have an opportunity to make a substantial nitrate reduction in the transport of nitrate from their fields to the Gulf,” David added. 
 
The work of David and his colleagues is detailed in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality – should any of you be intrested.
 

 

Published in Issue 164