The increasing frequency and severity of flooding events across the country is highlighting the critical importance of Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service’s erosion control initiatives.
"Loss of productive land through erosion has a significant impact on the environment, economy and local communities. So, while we can’t prevent storms and floods happening, we can help mitigate against the impacts on people and livelihoods from slips and erosion, in particular by planting trees," says Alex Wilson, grants and partnerships director, Forest Development, at Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service.
Alex Wilson says erosion and its effects in hill country areas alone are estimated to cost New Zealand's economy $250 million to $350 million a year.
"Taking steps to reducing erosion in the upper areas of a catchment is much more cost effective than putting in flood-control structures in the lower areas and cleaning up after a flood.
"Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service works to protect farmland from storm damage by supporting farmers to plant trees to stabilise land, re-establish vegetation, or retire their most vulnerable areas.
"Not only does this work retain productive soils on farms, it also reduces sediment entering waterways and potential downstream damage. It is particularly important to build on-farm resilience now in the face of a changing climate,” Alex Wilson says.
The Sustainable Land Management Hill Country Erosion Programme is the Government’s primary means of reducing soil loss on private land – through actively partnering with councils.
"Establishing partnerships between farmers, councils, and Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service is fundamental to the programme’s success. Since 2007, more than $200 million has been invested in erosion control through the programme. This includes funding from central government, councils, and farmers.
"We encourage farmers to work with local councils through these voluntary programmes – plan how to best protect the vulnerable parts of your property and get support to take action."
Gisborne-Tairāwhiti is the latest region to suffer significant storm damage, particularly in the township of Tokomaru Bay, which has been cut in half by damage to a bridge on the main highway.
"Tairāwhiti has a significant proportion of highly erodible land – 3 times higher than in other regions across New Zealand.
"In recognition of the severe erosion problems in the Tairāwhiti district the Erosion Control Funding Programme (ECFP) was established in 1992," Alex Wilson says.
"Since that time, ECFP has partnered with Gisborne District Council to assist landowners in the planting or retirement of over 45,000ha of the most erodible land features in Gisborne.
"While this is a significant improvement, work still continues to reduce the impacts of erosion on the district; impacts most acutely felt by farmers and rural communities during heavy weather events, like the recent downpours on the east coast."
Evidence of Hill Country Erosion Programme (HCEP) initiatives leading to more sustainable land management can be found in a series of case studies around New Zealand, including in Hawke’s Bay, Manawatū-Whanganui, Nelson, Waikato, and Greater Wellington.
Alex Wilson says the case studies clearly demonstrate how HCEP is funding the right tree in the right place for erosion control, helping to prevent erosion in hilly country, which means less sedimentation flowing downstream – and better water quality for Kiwis to enjoy.