Tony has to move on from his dream

Ill-health forces conservationist's hand

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2012
Lagoon
JOHN HAWKINS/ Fairfax NZ

Tony Reiger, the founder of the Southern Wetlands Trust, has spent close to a decade restoring Big Lagoon to being the major landscape feature and resource for birds that it once was.

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White-faced herons take flight, their reflections glistening in the calm water of the lagoon while mallards and swans glide on the glassy surface.

Standing on the bank of Big Lagoon, Tony Reiger looks across the water of Southland's second largest fresh water lagoon on the southern coastal plain.

Without the passion and dedication of the former Alaskan school teacher, this natural wetland in Taramoa may have become dairy farmland.

Now after close to a decade, Mr Reiger has been forced to put his property, including the recovered lagoon and wetland, up for sale.

"I would love to stay but that is not possible," he said.

Due to failing health and a lack of resources to take his beloved project further, Mr Reiger has been forced to put the 50-hectare property on the market.

While he may not be able to stay on the property for much longer, hopefully the wetlands would be there long after he was gone, Mr Reiger said.

A QEII covenant has been placed on 32 hectares of the land which Mr Reiger hoped would preserve the wetlands and the lagoon.

"If there was no lagoon, house or covenant on the land, I could get top dollar from the dairy industry but this land deserves to be protected for future generations," he said.

Originally the lagoon covered an area of 17 hectares, but after major drainage efforts were made by dairy farmers in the early 1980s to expand grazing lands, all that remained in 2003 when he bought the property was a mudhole one hectare in size, Mr Reiger said.

Big Lagoon's destruction was not unique, Mr Reiger said.

"It was a casualty of an ongoing war from industry, farming and other factors against wetlands all across New Zealand, he said.

Today, surrounded on three sides by dairy farms, Big Lagoon provides a safe and natural habitat for nearly 70 bird species and supports a healthy population of short-finned eels.

The wetland is also a testament to nearly a decade of hard work from someone who wanted to give something back to his adopted homeland.

"My effort was as much for the habitat and the wildlife the lagoon brought with it but for the people of Southland," he said.

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