Waitangi Regional Park, which covers over 300 hectares of coastal land between Awatoto and Haumoana, has been transformed from an undervalued barren and neglected area into one of the top ten wetlands in Hawke’s Bay.
The Park has significant cultural, historic and biodiversity values. In this important ecosystem, fish breed and migrate between the ocean and the Clive, Ngaruroro and Tūtaekurī rivers.
Collaboration between the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) and many voluntary community groups has seen large swathes of the previously underutilised land close to Awatoto restored and it is now an award-winning cultural destination with the Ātea a Rangi Star Compass, a dramatic circle of pou (posts), stones and a whaharoa (gateway) taking centre stage.
Restoration work, development and planting has moved forward exponentially in recent years. Literally thousands of plants are now established on both sides of SH 51, turning wasteland into a thriving ecosystem and providing enhanced habitat for birds and wildlife.
Next month Te Wai Mauri Trust is hosting a re-scheduled wānanga for rangatahi at the park, a training course which was postponed due to the current Covid outbreak. This initiative, engaging local youth and connecting them with the environment is supported by Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay and also by Pan Pac. The Trust was one of four winners of the 2021 Pan Pac Environmental Trust’s Awards. Details at: https://ppet.org.nz/winning-projects/
It was Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay’s Community Facilitator, Dr Belinda Sleight, who told me about the Trust’s impressive work.
“I’m all in for initiatives that link young people with the environment,” she enthuses.
“The physical and spiritual links being built through Te Wai Mauri Trust’s kaupapa bode well for a life-long connection with the environment and actions that protect and enhance it. They’re activating young people to start thinking and caring about the environment and to get out there and get involved!”
Te Wai Mauri Trust was established in 2015, as a mana whenua hapū-based cultural and environmental Charitable Trust. It is a second-chance employer with a strong whānau and tikanga approach to going about its daily business.
Last October, the Trust received funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), enabling it to employ ten new Kaitiaki Rangers. Most of the new rangers came from the Waiōhiki community and were previously unemployed.
The now trained and qualified recruits have embraced their roles and are providing kaitiakitanga environmental services within the district, including fencing, riparian and wetland planting and pest control. Recently, they have been busy preparing the area for the wānanga activities.
Establishing and expanding its own nursery adjacent to Waiōhiki Marae is a cornerstone development for the Trust. The goal is to scale up production to nurture, grow and plant up to 100,000 seedlings within the next three years, a project which will create more jobs for locals.
Its Programme Manager, Jonathan Dick, told me that the Trust had recently entered into a ‘Jobs for Nature’ funding contract with the Department of Conservation.
“This means that our Kaitiaki Rangers are working on DOC biodiversity and environmental outcomes for the next year,” he says. “The key area of focus for our team includes the Otātara Pā, along the Tūtaekurī through to the Waitangi wetland. This work involves planting, pest and weed control and track maintenance work as well as the plans to work closely with Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay and the HBRC to extend the wetland area at Waitangi.”
“The Kaitiaki Rangers have been awesome to work with around our awa,” says Russell Engelke, HBRC’s Team Leader Open Spaces. “Their mahi is so important, and knowing that we’re supporting the community by getting them in to look after our environment is pretty special.”
Last year’s PGF and MSD grants and now the Jobs for Nature contract has enabled the Trust to employ fifteen staff, including three nursery ‘working mums’ all of whom are on a four month Level 4 EIT Horticulture training course. The other new employees will be undertaking a ten week ‘Kaitiaki Ranger’ training programme at EIT. “This will upskill them on Level 3 Primary Industry skills,” explains Jonathan. “They will learn how to operate chainsaws, take a First Aid course, understand Growsafe (which provides students with the knowledge and skills to apply agrichemicals in a safe, responsible, and effective manner) and drive quad bikes.”
Jonathan says that Te Wai Mauri Trust Chairman, Te Kaha Hawaikirangi, has been central to the journey of the Trust and what it has set out to achieve for kaitiakitanga.
“Although we are a young entity, we continue the legacy of our whānau who have advocated for the protection, restoration and enhancement of our taiao for many years,” explains Te Kaha. “Our links to Ōtātara Pā, the Tūtaekurī Awa and Waitangi estuary mean we will continue to focus our efforts and mahi in these areas, while working in partnership with DOC and HBRC.”
“In addition to providing employment for whānau, growing native plants and restoring our taiao, the principles of Te Wai Mauri also focus on growing the skills of our people, strengthening our connection with the taiao, and improving our wellbeing,” Te Kaha adds.
“Our goal for the future is to build Te Wai Mauri into a sustainable and thriving environmental organisation.”
Clearly, this very welcome funding is benefiting both the mana whenua and the land itself.