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Turning a stagnant Waikato swamp into a thriving wetlands

You might have heard the name Stu Muir before. Perhaps you saw he was a 2018 Kiwibank Waikato Local Hero, or a 2019 Kiwibank New Zealander Of The Year nominee. Or maybe you saw him on Country Calendar.  He’s a bit of a Kiwi legend, and for good reason.

Stu’s family have farmed on the same piece of land in the Waikato since the 1890’s, with Stu and wife Kim currently running a dairy farm with a difference. Stu believes that a being good farmer and a good custodian of the land goes hand in hand, and he’s set about to prove it.

In the 1920s the local Awapuni Dam released silt that blocked all the natural streams in the area, leaving a large stagnant tributary of the Waikato River on the farm. For decades the stream and swamplands were clogged with willows and pondweed, but after years of hard work Stu’s changed all that and brought whitebait back to the area.

With a grant from the Waikato River Authority (a joint iwi and crown organisation set up to clean up the Waikato River and its tributaries), Stu and his family have cleared many kilometres of the Papa and Mangati waterways, turning them from choked and dying waterways into vibrant living streams. Pest species were removed from the swamp - an undertaking that required some heavy machinery - and the family set about restoring the native ecosystem through replanting.

So far, Stu and his family have created dozens of spawning ponds for whitebait and restored habitat for the rare bittern and fernbirds to live and breed. They’ve planted approximately 40,000 wetland plants and established a pest eradication programme covering over 400 hectares targeting mustelids, possums and rats.

Trees That Count were thrilled to help the Muirs plant another 4,000 native trees this year, with 2,000 native trees from the Department of Corrections Nurseries, and another 2,000 trees funded by a family in Auckland.

But Stu’s not stopping there. Along the way, he’s involved local schools and young people on work experience courses, but he’s created such a great example of native wetland habitat, that he wants to open his work to the wider community, particularly focusing on schools within the wider Auckland and Waikato region.

At the moment there is no direct way to explore the wetland sites, so he’s fundraising on Givealittle for a bridge to connect the restoration sites and enable easier access so members of the public can access the area and witness the amazing work.

“All I’m doing is taking bits of land that are marginal and putting them back as they were,” says Stu. “It’s such a cool playground for the kids, they love it. They’ve got canoes, they’re eeling, whitebaiting, catching mullet and there’s even freshwater crayfish and mussels. All this and they can be brought up with this sense of their environment.”

Stu’s work turning a heavily farmed piece of land into an eco-conscious dairy farm and thriving native wetlands is a fantastic example of kaitiaki in action. And his commitment to work alongside Waikato iwi and the local council toward a shared goal of restoration, education and protection is a model that all New Zealanders benefit from.

“If individually and collectively we can all do a bit, then our land will be better for everyone. There are a lot of groups doing just so happens that I’m on the swamps, and this is where I can make a little bit of a difference.”


About the author

Trees That Count aims to create a national movement to plant millions of native trees to mitigate climate change. We're managed by the Project Crimson Trust in partnership with the Tindall Foundation.

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