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Three Far North dune lakes with ecological significance are being restored, enhanced and protected thanks to a collaboration between local iwi, government, and NorthTec.
The two-year project is funded by Ministry for the Environment and Reconnecting Northland, involving a collaboration between Te Hiku Iwi Development Trust, and Ngai Takoto, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri iwi.
A key part of the project is a training and employment programme in which young Māori are developing skills to carry out the lake restoration work and prepare for other primary industry employment.
Project Manager, Wendy Henwood, said: “The environmental restoration work is a catalyst to build our workforce, our capacity and capability so that when the lake restoration work is complete, our young people will have the skills to work in forestry, farming or horticulture."
The lakes have been impacted by land use practices and are in a degraded state, so the project is focusing on weed and pest control, fencing out stock, eco-sourced native planting, and monitoring of the lake environments and water quality.
Wendy said: “Of the nearly 50 dune lakes in Te Hiku, three were selected for the project. We selected lakes in which we could make a difference within the two-year project timeframe. Waiparera and Split lakes are being restored by a team from Ngai Takoto, and Bulrush Lake is being restored by a Te Aupōuri team.”
Both teams of young Māori have been part of a NorthTec horticulture training programme. Ihaka Korewha provides pastoral care, John Slade leads the Te Aupōuri team and Kaharau Pou leads the Ngai Takoto team. Kaharau has moved back to the Far North to lead his team in the project: “I had been working in forestry in Whangarei for 13 years, and this project has given me the opportunity to come home and switch things up a bit.
“We all train together for three days a week at CBEC in Kaitaia, then for the other two days we apply what we’ve learned by working out in the lake environments. Last year we cleared around the lakes and planted 5000 native plants and we’ll eco-source and plant another 5000 plants this year. The planting creates a buffer zone to reduce the run-off and therefore improve the water quality of the lakes.”
The project started a year ago with a total of 18 trainees but that has now dropped to 13. Kaharau said: “The others left for a good reason - they got employment. The idea is to put recruits through the two-year programme where they can gain experience and education. Within that time, they can either complete the project or they can move on to employment but still complete their level 3 horticulture training.”
At the moment the project is being run as a pilot programme but if it is successful and aligns with government incentives, it may be rolled out into a self-sustaining, longer-term programme. Kaharau said: “We’re now looking at the recruiting process for the next course and we’re keen to develop a long-term strategy where each iwi can continue the programme under their own funding if necessary.”
The initial funding of the dune lakes project has come from the government’s Te Mana o Te Wai Fund which was set up to support iwi and hapū-led initiatives to improve the quality of local freshwater systems. Kaharau is keen to support this into the future: “The lakes are in our back yard. In our role as kaitiaki, our local hapū and iwi are in a strong position to protect and improve the water quality of our lakes and wetlands. Healthy waterways support healthy environments, which then support healthy whānau.”
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