It’s a win-win situation when a community buys into a project to enhance their local area and other stakeholders come on board to provide the necessary resources and expertise to help make the magic happen.
This describes the fantastic results attained by the combined efforts of the Pirimai Residents’ Association (PRA), Napier City Council (NCC), Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, New Zealand Landcare Trust, Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay, Plant Hawke’s Bay, Cam and Hinewai Ormsby, Ravensdown Fertiliser Ltd., All Saints Church in Taradale and more than a hundred enthusiastic volunteers who recently helped plant some 1,800 natives along the Cross Country Drain which runs through the suburb.
The drain was designed in the 1990’s to future-proof the drainage of suburban Napier.
It captures runoff from areas south of Napier City and diverts water directly to a coastal outfall, rather than have it flow through low-lying residential areas.
PRA chairman, Richard Catley, told me that the association was formed in 2000 to push the authorities to lay a noise reducing surface to the expressway near their homes. From there, it has become a voice for the residents of Pirimai and works closely with NCC to ensure concerns are heard and the area is getting what it needs to thrive.
Through fundraising, the PRA constructed a playground in the Allen Berry Reserve, planted shade trees at the park, installed a community notice board at the shops and developed a proposal to create a path from the expressway to the sea; an ambitious plan which went ahead last year as a COVID ‘shovel ready’ project. A grant from NCC funded three seats along the way.
Dr Belinda Sleight, Community Facilitator at Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay, told me that the plan is to plant the whole 4 km of the Cross Country Drain and turn it into a community asset – a Reserve/Park, rather than a drain. She says, “I think that this approach [building community ownership in projects and spaces] is really important for increasing the amount of activity towards biodiversity and conservation gains.”
Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay is championing the establishment of biodiversity corridors in the landscape. “By adding habitat to urban spaces, our native species will be able to progressively move throughout Napier City”, Belinda explains. “We’re thrilled to see a partnership between NCC and residents in the Pirimai area.”
Jason Tickner, NCC’s Team Leader Parks, Reserves and Sportsgrounds agrees. He explained that the council works with groups to determine suitable locations for planting projects and to identify the ongoing maintenance needs, supporting each group to take ownership of the project and public space. In this instance, the PRA was supported with site preparation, donated plants and mulch.
“NCC has been actively involved in planting native vegetation in reserves and supporting community groups to do the same for several years,” says Jason.
There are a number of opportunities for planting and restoration that can both improve the biodiversity within Napier and benefit the community. Jason adds, “One of the most important benefits is how it builds communities. People of all ages and backgrounds coming together to improve their local environment often results in them stepping up to look after and help protect these public places.”
I asked what the environmental benefits of such a project were and Jason said they would include: “A reduction in air pollution, support native birdlife, slow water runoff, reduce the risk of flooding, mitigate the risk of soil erosion or slips, help to create wildlife corridors and create positive health benefits for users.”
Belinda recognises the potential for cleaning up the urban drains around Napier and adding habitat where possible, as this will make them a biodiversity corridor network.
She sees it as a relatively simple way for NCC to attain the 10% habitat coverage threshold it wants to achieve, especially if it can get residents involved by owning the projects.
The large number of donated trees and shrubs meant for a very busy morning and resulted in around 50% more area being planted than was originally planned. Akeake, Cabbage Trees, Flaxes, Grasses, Kakabeak, Kanuka, Karamu, Kowhai, Manuka and Oioi (Rushes) are just some of the assorted plantings.
Late last year, Richard contacted HBRC Councillor Hinewai Ormsby and husband Cam and told them about the association’s planting plans and the community-minded couple immediately gave their support, donating 1,000 of their home-grown natives.
“We hear more and more that our natural environment needs a helping hand, and when we hear it, we action it,” says Hinewai. “We hope that the next generation can do more than today’s for our collective tomorrow.” She describes the PRA’s project as “awesome”.
Earlier this year, the Ormsbys helped pick out and pot up native flaxes and cabbage trees for church parishioners to on-grow at home and the church in turn donated 300 of the now grown trees towards the project.
Hinewai believes that, “If we’re to achieve the natural world and environment that we desire and deserve, then it begins at the hands of communities.” She brought along the HBRC’s event trailer, which carries a whole lot of planting gear, as well as fertiliser tablets, stakes, tree guards and the all-important community BBQ.
A clearly delighted Richard Catley was really pleased with the support the association got from the other stakeholders. “It was a community project that, while we spearheaded it, we couldn’t have done it without their help and knowledge.”
“We were also blown away by the community turnout that really showed people do care and want to be a part of the solution in making the community a better place. We feel this is a perfect annual project to enhance the wellbeing of our residents in so many ways.”