Chair of the Endangered Species Foundation, Stu Muir says conservation projects and profitable farming can co-exist:
“It’s a really basic philosophy. If an area is marginal, we put it back to what it was, and if it’s productive – we make it 100 per cent productive. You can spend a lot of time trying to bring in land that is never going to be much good for anything – it’s better off being in a duckpond or a wetland or bush.
“This focuses you on the most productive parts of your farm, so you improve them.”
For example, the Muirs have introduced different species of plantains and chicory:
“Those sorts of crops help get us through the dry summers and the extremes of weather that we’re getting more and more of.”
The diversity of plant species also helps with soil biology and attracting bees and pollinators.
Good relations with the wider community are an important aspect. School groups are regular visitors, learning about the area’s history as well as conservation.
“We host kids from South Auckland schools, beautiful, young talented kids, but half of them have never been in the bush or down to the river or experienced farming. It’s really nice to show them how this land’s been farmed for the last 80-100 years since it was first occupied. We’re just the next stage in the story. To see the response from the kids is just fantastic.”
The couple are building boardwalks through the wetlands and fundraising for a bridge connecting the restoration sites and enable easier access for the public.
“At the moment we can only really access the first part of the restoration on a little island. To go over to the main stream that we’ve cleared kilometres of, you really see the difference between a man-made stream and a natural environment.
“I’m just mad, I thought it’d be really cool to have a boardwalk through there. It’s just a matter of finding the time when we’re not doing a few thousand other things.”
On the present boardwalk, visitors walk above tall flax bordering the wetland and newly planted trees.
“In the next section, we’re taking it right down so you’ll be 2-3ft above the high tide, and that’ll give you the experience of what it’s like for us when we’re duck shooting or whitebaiting or just wandering around down there.”
Stu and Kim raise some funding for their projects from Te Papa Eco Cottage, an off-grid luxury bed-and-breakfast cottage above the wetland, but that’s on ice due to coronavirus restrictions.
The family look forward to extending its role as kaitiaki, guardians of the environment.
“Our kids are the sixth generation here. Our neighbours have been here for 25 generations so we’re just the new kids on the block. I’d like to think that in six generations the farm will still be here, but with more kaka and tui and kereru and native plant biodiversity - as well as being an incredibly profitable farm.”
Taken from the full article in the New Zealand Herald series "The Vision is Clear".