NZ Landcare Trust is helping farmers and community groups to form catchment groups to improve waterways, Nick Edgar writes.

New Zealand’s waterways are crucial to the sustainability of our land – and sadly, many of those streams, rivers and lakes around the country are deemed “at risk”.

The idyllic idea of letting the kids and grandkids go for a swim in the local swimming hole is out of reach for many farmers and landowners at present, with either E. coli levels rendering them unswimmable, or nutrient loads seeping from the land creating murky, unhealthy waters.

Farmers have been given a hard time over their actions on the land and the follow-on effects on the waterways – but what we, as NZ Landcare Trust, see is that it is these farmers who are stepping to the fore and leading the changes towards better land and water sustainability.

NZ Landcare Trust is a non-government organisation working towards clean and healthy water, profitable farms and connected communities throughout NZ. We are about positive change; about improving the waterways from where they are now and ensuring the future generations of New Zealanders have clean and healthy water.

We have been working with farmers, landowners and community groups for more than 22 years and have a team of dedicated regional co-ordinators around the country with a wealth of knowledge on land and water sustainability. The trust also helps to being together farmers and catchment groups with agencies, iwi, local and national government to empower positive change

Backed by a strong board of trustees who are from farming, recreation and regulatory groups, the trust follows up the talk, with action on the ground – and have a record of positive results in our wake, plus a number of local, national and international awards.

A large part of the work the trust undertakes is bringing farmers and landowners together to create catchment groups, empowering them to create action on the ground.

Forming a catchment group is a logical way of organising like-minded farmers and landowners who own areas around waterways. It allows people to take ownership of the issues and formalise a way to improve the water in their catchment through positive change.

On a basic level, it helps to create the sense of community and gets the thought processes going. They not only kick-start action at ground level, but help to create social capital within the community, building trust and relationships while working together on a common goal.

It’s a known fact that people can often achieve more when working with others, than individually, and a catchment group is a great example of this. A catchment can encompass a huge area of land, from large sweeping landscapes with hills and valleys, through to lush green paddocks with rivers running near, and sometimes through to an ocean or lake as its end point. For the catchment, every hill, area of planting, fenced-off zone, and grazing area for cattle, matters.

Each catchment group has its own set of challenges, its own successes and its own story.

An example of the great work that catchment groups can achieve can be found throughout the country, from Invercargill in the South through to the northern reaches.

NZ Landcare Trust have been running a successful three-year project in Invercargill – the Southland Farmer-Driven Community Catchment Groups. Funded by Ministry of Primary Industries, this project has seen a phenomenal rise in the creation of catchments groups around the Southland region, with the latest count sitting at more than 22 new groups established and more in the pipeline.

Each group is supported by the trust often before the group is even formed – with the project co-ordinator bringing people together where there is demand for a group and creating a catchment group from there. It isn’t always the quickest process, but the shared passion between the attendees often shines through.

Different agencies as well as local and regional councils come together to work with us, with the groups, creating a really great collaborative effect for the better.

Knowledge sharing is a must – with so many resources available for groups whether they are at a starting phase or have been working together for a number of years. The trust holds a number of events in each region each year, as well as supporting the groups with the myriad of resources available for download on our website.

Bringing catchment groups together, to network, to talk and to learn from each other is paramount in creating a movement country-wide. The action that these groups can and will achieve for their catchments can be phenomenal. Rather than one farm here and there completing some great steps towards healthy waterways, such as riparian margins and plantings, sediment traps and good management practices – more and more neighbouring properties are working towards the same goal.

Collaboration, connecting, and sharing information is key in the continued improvement of our waterways. Good management practices such as riparian planting, sediment traps, effluent management, erosion control and working on the biodiversity of the land will ultimately, over time, make huge gains in the land and water sustainability of our farms.

From what we see each and every day, farmers are doing their part. They are becoming more proactive and passionate about the environment. Future generations coming up through the ranks are bringing in new enthusiasm, and overall, the work is being done.

The reality is this: farmers live off their land so they need their land and waterways in good condition. It is time for positive change and it is being done, little by little. It all adds up and the future for NZ’s waterways is definitely looking clearer.

  • Dr Nick Edgar is chief executive of NZ Landcare Trust


“Catchment groups are like churches in a community – not everyone goes to it, but people want to have one there,” says Edwin Mabonga, former chair of the Mid Upper Aparima catchment group in Southland.

The farmer, and passionate catchment group member and advocate, says that while catchment groups can sometimes be a challenge to start as often farmers are already so busy, the positive change they can bring about in a community is worth the work in the long run.

“When we first went to start, we had five people show up to the first meeting. Over time, sometimes our meetings would only have three people but people were still interested in how the meeting had gone. We just kept going, even if the numbers were low, and now the numbers have built up and we are doing more,” he says.

“It is not without its challenges, but it’s very much worth it. For some, people don’t like to hear they have a problem, whereas others are acknowledging it and wanting to know what can be done.”

“Three years on, we have a great team, everyone is focused on the bigger picture, and we are making good changes in our catchment, and doing it with the support of the NZ Landcare Trust.

“As a farmer, it is just part of what we should want to do. I want to be part of the change that I want to see. I love farming and I love the environment and I want to be doing something to make a difference. For me, that is my work with the catchment group and the work I am doing on my own farm. Every bit makes a difference.”


To culminate the three-year Southland Farmer-Driven Catchment Groups project and its success, as well as to share the learnings from the project and other catchment work around the country, the NZ Landcare Trust, supported by Beef + Lamb NZ, is holding a National Catchment Workshop in Invercargill on April 1-2, 2020.

This event will showcase catchment work along with speakers from around the country, experts and farmers themselves telling it like it is. This event will be ideal for anyone in a catchment group, thinking of starting a catchment group, or an agency or council working with catchment groups.