Canterbury Farmers Support Soil Conservation Project

The four-year, $4.1 million Soil Conservation and Revegetation (SCAR) project is funded by Environment Canterbury, the Ministry for Primary Industries and landowners. The project is not only helping Hurunui and Kaikoura waterways but also bringing the community closer together.

Nine thousand poplar and willow poles were planted on 76 hill country farms during the first three years of the project, which will promote stabilisation and improved soil management in areas prone to erosion and high winds.

Over four years, the programme hopes to deliver 20,000 poles, fence, plant and retire 238 hectares of land for native reversion, deliver 82 land use capability maps to landowners and share learnings on soil conservation at workshops in Hurunui and Kaikoura.

Andrew Turnbull, Environment Canterbury's land management and biodiversity adviser, said staff with good farm system knowledge communicating with the farming community had been vital to the project's success.

Turnbull said some farmers who were unsure in the beginning had become the biggest supporters of the project once they realised staff were there to offer advice and support.

The simplification of the application process and support from the project coordinator had also helped get more farmers on board, added Turnbull.

The poplars and willows were supplied by Environment Canterbury's nursery located in Clarkville, near the Waimakariri River.

Nursery manager Steve Tuer said the five-hectare site provided thousands of trees for the project and river control each year.

Turnbull realised some people might question the use of poplars and willows due to their reputation as pest plants, but modern species of poplar and willow clones had been developed for soil conservation purposes and lacked the invasive characteristics of the originals.

He added that natives would not survive in erosion-prone, exposed hillsides due to their fragile nature and weaker root systems. Only poplars and willows could grow the extensive root system required to stabilise a hillside quickly.

Reducing environmental waste is also important for the nursery, with leftover cuttings and poles turned into mulch.

The project provided farmers with evidence for their Farm Environment Plans and built resilience into their farming operation, along with reducing their overall carbon footprint and achieving good water quality, said Turnbull. He said he was looking forward to continuing to develop relationships and improving the environment during the second half of the project.