An idea which formed in the mind of local Fred Lichtwark, way back in 1990, started the ball rolling to cleaning up the Whaingaroa Harbour catchment area. ‘Whaingaroa Harbour Care’ was born and now their efforts are being recognised at the 2014 NZ River Awards in November.

There are two accolades at the NZ River Awards, which are to be held in Wellington. The Supreme Award – for most improved river in the country – and, the River Story Award – awarded to individuals, schools, communities, NGOs (Non-governmental Organisations), councils and others to improve the health of a local river or stream.

NZ River Awards organiser Susan Guthrie said that Whaingaroa Harbour Care will be representing the Waikato region in the River Story award category for the “outstanding results” the group had achieved in the whole Whaingaroa catchment area.

She said the group was a national model of riparian management – the care of waterway banks and its vegetation – and that “They can be really proud of the significant impact” made to the Whaingaroa catchment area.

“Fred’s group are (sic) doing a great job and we have selected them as the ‘ambassadors’ for the Waikato region at the awards…their work has gone further than Waikato and Raglan,” Susan said.

A presentation is currently being prepared about the efforts of Whaingaroa Harbour Care as a story for the award.
Whaingaroa Harbour Care is a not for profit organisation which gives subsidised planting of native plants around waterways – riparian planting .

Whaingaroa Harbour Care manager Fred Lichtwark said the need for a clean-up of the harbour came about 20 years ago as seafood depleted, stock carcasses lay dead on parts of the harbour and water quality was at its poorest.

Fred had a vision. He saw that if the attributing waterways to the Whaingaroa Harbour were cleaned up, it would result in the harbour coming back to life.

So, in 1995, Fred decided to put his idea into practice and held a community meeting.
He was amazed by the support of councils and locals at the time. Seventy five people turned up to that meeting, including Eva Rickard, he said.

“She thought the idea was great…the only change [she wanted to see] was in the name.”
So, instead of ‘Raglan Harbour Care’, the name ‘Whaingaroa Harbour Care’ was agreed upon.

With more than 1.2 million trees in the ground and nearly 20 years behind them, Fred and his team have done what was seemingly impossible. Cleaned up the Whaingaroa catchment area.

“The down-stream benefits are clear to see.”

He said his biggest supporters had been local beef farmers.
“They are excellent. They are absolute role models. They have worked away behind the scenes and got on with it.”

The benefits are great for farmers, their stock productivity is up as a result of the riparian management and costs and environmental impact are kept at a low, Fred said.

“It leaves the place stunning. We give them [farmers] a huge subsidy and we get plants in the ground from two dollars, fifty and they have a ninety-eight percent success rate.”

Fred said that so far 90% (170kms) of the Whaingaroa harbour and 500 km of tributary waterway banks have been fenced off and planted out.

“This equates to about 60 percent of the catchment area,” he said.
Initially it was thought that it would take about 25 years to see an improvement in the health of the catchment area; however, Fred said the results happened a lot quicker.

“After 10 years we have seen some really positive results…after 15 years we saw a reversal.”

He said that Whaingaroa Harbour Care had plenty more work to do for the Whaingaroa catchment area and, at this point, there was three years’ worth of work ahead of the group.

The NZ River Awards will be held in Wellington on 27 November, 2014.

Marcia Ahern