Farmer believes wetlands prevent storm damage

LOOK AHEAD: Farmer Alec Milne in his gully that feeds the Machine Gully wetland.
LOOK AHEAD: Farmer Alec Milne in his gully that feeds the Machine Gully wetland.

As Alec Milne marches across his 46 hectare Tasman View grazing block it is easy to imagine the rolling land once in natives with the nearby gully's artesian-fed stream trickling under dark ferns.

It fed the large wetland that drains to streams feeding the Moutere Inlet near Tasman.

But the bush is long burnt and the following apple trees and later pines also gone. The clay slopes are coated with grass and dotted with young dairy replacements Mr Milne summer-grazes on the block.

The two hectare gully Alec and his wife Marian own is smothered with gorse - although it is patched with raupo and the occasional young native is appearing now the cattle have been barred.

The couple have fenced off the gully and have started a planting regime using young trees they grow from locally-sourced seed. They hope to soon start a pest and weed control programme on the two hectare of the main wetland they also own.

The Milne's do not need converting.

Four hectares of a large Onekaka wetland is a feature of their 57ha Golden Bay farm.

They have owned the property 24 years. But when they first brought it, their bank manager wanted the wetland drained.

"We've always valued them and I think farmers in general are a lot more positive about wetlands now then they were.

"There are a lot of good stories and changes happening."

Mr Milne said wetlands are not only natural sponges but strip phosphates from farm run-off and hold back sediments from spilling into estuaries.

They are significant refuges for increasingly rare native biodiversity, provide an aesthetic balance and can improve land value.

"I've heard marsh crake and fern bird have been seen here," he said, waving his arm in the direction of the 16ha Machine Gully wetland.

"Wetlands act like big sponges and take the peak out of floods.

"If councils established a few more in gullies we would not have the storm run-off that we have seen such devastation.

"From a farming point of view there are pluses and minuses - but think of what this will look like in 10 to 15 years, " he said.

He supported Tasman District Council's approach to encouraging farmers to protect their natural wetland and predicted there would come a time when councils actively encouraged landowners to create wetland areas.

Once owned by Carter Holt Harvey, Machine Gully wetland is now protected by council rules and by a consent notice on individual property titles.

The Nelson Mail