A cleaner, brighter water future for Rere

A group of Rere-based farmers is working to return the waterways to a pristine state so that children can enjoy the slide well into the future. Michael Neilson dives into the water quality enhancement project to find out more.

A group of Rere-based farmers is working to return the waterways to a pristine state so that children can enjoy the slide well into the future. Michael Neilson dives into the water quality enhancement project to find out more.

FUN IN THE SUN: Children enjoying the Rere Rockslide on the Wharekopae River last summer. While water quality at the Falls and the Rockslide is often below safe standards the Rere Falls and Rockslide Water Quality Enhancement project is turning that around. File picture by Liam Clayton
FARMERS GETTING STUCK IN: The Rere farming community have got behind a project to enhance the water quality in the Wharekopae River. In the background, the river runs through Marcus and Kerry Worsnop’s (second and third from left) farm. Also attending the field day were: (from left) Erica Van Reenen (AgFirst), Robbie Worsnop, Mark Gemmell (Mokonui Station), Alice Trevelyan (Gisborne District Council), Deana Cook (Makaretu Farmstead), Mark Harris (Beef and Lamb NZ) and Jo Armstrong (Ministry for the Environment). Picture by Michael Neilson
PROTECTNG THE FALLS: Farmer Mark Gemmell wants the tradition of children swimming at Rere Falls to continue.

LONG-time Rere farmer Mark Gemmell learned to swim in the Wharekopae River, and so did his children. Now his grandchildren are doing the same, and he wants this tradition to continue.

However, water quality in the river, which flows through Rere Falls and Rockslide, regularly falls below safe standards. The Rere Falls and Rockslide water quality enhancement project, which began 18 months ago involving a collective of Rere-based farmers, is working to turn that around.

“Everyone wants to return the river to a pristine condition,” Mark said.

He shared his water improvement mission during a Beef and Lamb New Zealand/Gisborne District Council (GDC) field day to promote the project, hosted on the farm of Kerry and Marcus Worsnop. The Wharekopae River and many of its tributaries run through Mark’s 900 hectare sheep and beef station, which includes a 112-hectare QEII covenanted area of native bush.

Mark noticed a decline in water quality in the 1970s. Events like 1988’s Cyclone Bola, which ripped tonnes of sediment off the hillsides, added to detrimental impacts of farming.

“The erosion and sediment build-up was astronomical. It filled many of the deep pools up. We used to have trout in the river.”

He started voluntarily fencing off stock from his farm’s waterways. Later, Mark developed a farm environment plan to better manage the farm economically and environmentally, and instigated a water reticulation system to provide water to stock.

Now, with support from the GDC and Beef and Lamb NZ, he has almost entirely fenced off the river and its tributaries. He has been taking weekly water samples for the past year to assist with E.coli bacteria modelling for the project. The modelling will indicate which animals the E. coli comes from and how different land use influences its levels.

Along with farm stock, sources of E.coli can include birds and wild goats further up the catchment area.

News of Mark’s efforts, and the other 20 farms in the Upper Wharekopae sub-catchment that have instigated farm environment plans (FEPs), has spread throughout the region.

Hhiroroa Road farmers

Hhiroroa Road farmers Sally and Joe Coffler wanted to get involved with the water quality enhancement project. “Hearing about this project in the Gisborne Herald made us feel very proud as farmers,” Sally said.

Hihiroroa Road farmers Sally and Joe Loffler read about the water quality enhancement project in the Gisborne Herald and wanted to be involved.

“Hearing about this project made us feel very proud as farmers,” Sally said.

“There is often a lot of negativity and misinformed comments towards farmers, but the perception is different to the reality.”

The Ministry for the Environment (MFE) has taken notice too. MFE analyst Jo Armstrong said the project set an example for other farmers around the country.

The ministry has provided $40,000 to conduct a social impact assessment to identify why the project has been so successful and how it can be replicated around New Zealand.

In addition, AgFirst’s Erica Van Reenen has been helping the Rere farmers develop their FEPs.

“It is about looking at the farm differently, putting ideas and practices on paper and leaving it on the coffee table, not putting the paper away in a drawer,” she said.

Farmers can also get assistance from farming industry support groups and the GDC. Once their FEP is in place, they can apply for funding to implement it.

Converting bogs and swamps

An example of helping the environment and making land productive is converting bogs and swampy areas into wetlands.

“If it is a boggy area it will probably continue to be like that. Instead, farmers can convert it to a wetland and shout this from the rooftop,” Erica said.

Fencing bogs and turning them into wetlands benefited the enironment and the farm itself, she said.

“Wetlands act like kidneys, filtering water and runoff. They are also good at soaking up nutrients, slowing water flow during heavy rain events and catching sediment.

“They are little ecosytems, and we have had a serious loss of wetlands biodiversity in New Zealand.”

A good example of a successful wetland was on a Motu farm where the farm now had approximately 200 breeding weka, all in view of the family house.

Rere farmers Kerry and Marcus Worsnop want to do all they can to enhance the water quality of the river but face many challenges typical to the region on their 373-hectare sheep and beef farm. These challenges include erosion and drought.

The Worsnops have been planting to address erosion, installing culverts and have set up a dam to provide water reticulation so they can fence stock away from waterways.

However, there is still much work ahead. Their land is very steep and prone to erosion. They also have a long river margin and problems with weeds. Without intensive weed control and riparian planting in the fenced-off area, the weeds — including blackberry and barberry — take over.

“If we had the time, money and resources we would fence it off and plant it in natives tomorrow. It is a no-brainer,” Kerry said.

“It would not be an issue if we had funding to sort it out.”

Another farmer who spoke at the field day said they were keen to do as much as possible but needed more resources and assistance to do so.

The farmer suggested subsidies for native plants and an advice service on what is best to plant on specific terrain and how to develop wetlands.

Protecting the environment was the responsibility of all New Zealanders, said another. Taxes could go towards such initiatives, they added.

“We need a better understanding of the public/private benefits.”


LONG-time Rere farmer Mark Gemmell learned to swim in the Wharekopae River, and so did his children. Now his grandchildren are doing the same, and he wants this tradition to continue.

However, water quality in the river, which flows through Rere Falls and Rockslide, regularly falls below safe standards. The Rere Falls and Rockslide water quality enhancement project, which began 18 months ago involving a collective of Rere-based farmers, is working to turn that around.

“Everyone wants to return the river to a pristine condition,” Mark said.

He shared his water improvement mission during a Beef and Lamb New Zealand/Gisborne District Council (GDC) field day to promote the project, hosted on the farm of Kerry and Marcus Worsnop. The Wharekopae River and many of its tributaries run through Mark’s 900 hectare sheep and beef station, which includes a 112-hectare QEII covenanted area of native bush.

Mark noticed a decline in water quality in the 1970s. Events like 1988’s Cyclone Bola, which ripped tonnes of sediment off the hillsides, added to detrimental impacts of farming.

“The erosion and sediment build-up was astronomical. It filled many of the deep pools up. We used to have trout in the river.”

He started voluntarily fencing off stock from his farm’s waterways. Later, Mark developed a farm environment plan to better manage the farm economically and environmentally, and instigated a water reticulation system to provide water to stock.

Now, with support from the GDC and Beef and Lamb NZ, he has almost entirely fenced off the river and its tributaries. He has been taking weekly water samples for the past year to assist with E.coli bacteria modelling for the project. The modelling will indicate which animals the E. coli comes from and how different land use influences its levels.

Along with farm stock, sources of E.coli can include birds and wild goats further up the catchment area.

News of Mark’s efforts, and the other 20 farms in the Upper Wharekopae sub-catchment that have instigated farm environment plans (FEPs), has spread throughout the region.

Hhiroroa Road farmers

Hhiroroa Road farmers Sally and Joe Coffler wanted to get involved with the water quality enhancement project. “Hearing about this project in the Gisborne Herald made us feel very proud as farmers,” Sally said.

Hihiroroa Road farmers Sally and Joe Loffler read about the water quality enhancement project in the Gisborne Herald and wanted to be involved.

“Hearing about this project made us feel very proud as farmers,” Sally said.

“There is often a lot of negativity and misinformed comments towards farmers, but the perception is different to the reality.”

The Ministry for the Environment (MFE) has taken notice too. MFE analyst Jo Armstrong said the project set an example for other farmers around the country.

The ministry has provided $40,000 to conduct a social impact assessment to identify why the project has been so successful and how it can be replicated around New Zealand.

In addition, AgFirst’s Erica Van Reenen has been helping the Rere farmers develop their FEPs.

“It is about looking at the farm differently, putting ideas and practices on paper and leaving it on the coffee table, not putting the paper away in a drawer,” she said.

Farmers can also get assistance from farming industry support groups and the GDC. Once their FEP is in place, they can apply for funding to implement it.

Converting bogs and swamps

An example of helping the environment and making land productive is converting bogs and swampy areas into wetlands.

“If it is a boggy area it will probably continue to be like that. Instead, farmers can convert it to a wetland and shout this from the rooftop,” Erica said.

Fencing bogs and turning them into wetlands benefited the enironment and the farm itself, she said.

“Wetlands act like kidneys, filtering water and runoff. They are also good at soaking up nutrients, slowing water flow during heavy rain events and catching sediment.

“They are little ecosytems, and we have had a serious loss of wetlands biodiversity in New Zealand.”

A good example of a successful wetland was on a Motu farm where the farm now had approximately 200 breeding weka, all in view of the family house.

Rere farmers Kerry and Marcus Worsnop want to do all they can to enhance the water quality of the river but face many challenges typical to the region on their 373-hectare sheep and beef farm. These challenges include erosion and drought.

The Worsnops have been planting to address erosion, installing culverts and have set up a dam to provide water reticulation so they can fence stock away from waterways.

However, there is still much work ahead. Their land is very steep and prone to erosion. They also have a long river margin and problems with weeds. Without intensive weed control and riparian planting in the fenced-off area, the weeds — including blackberry and barberry — take over.

“If we had the time, money and resources we would fence it off and plant it in natives tomorrow. It is a no-brainer,” Kerry said.

“It would not be an issue if we had funding to sort it out.”

Another farmer who spoke at the field day said they were keen to do as much as possible but needed more resources and assistance to do so.

The farmer suggested subsidies for native plants and an advice service on what is best to plant on specific terrain and how to develop wetlands.

Protecting the environment was the responsibility of all New Zealanders, said another. Taxes could go towards such initiatives, they added.

“We need a better understanding of the public/private benefits.”


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