Striking the balance for Southland’s future
Southland Regional Forum member Vaughan Templeton is one of 15 members of the community group looking to find the balance of actions that will improve water quality and ensure the region continues to thrive.
Vaughan joined the Southland Regional Forum in 2019 because he could see the need to get on top of Southland’s water quality, so it did not deteriorate any further. “I personally needed to see what improvements we needed to make, and I thought I could be helpful in giving a community perspective in how to improve water quality and maybe some of the systems that would work in practice.”
“There’s no doubt it’s a wicked problem because we need to restore the mana of the rivers that are degraded in places. And we need to do that without removing the mana of our people and our province, so it really is a balancing act.”
Vaughan and wife Megan farm at Riverton, where Vaughan’s family ran a flax mill business for several generations. In the 1950s the Templetons' very flat coastal property was drained with open drains to bring more area into production for flax/harakeke fibre for ropes and twines for baling hay. When that industry collapsed last century due to cheaper imports, the family turned to farming, though they still crank up the restored flax mill/museum as a heritage attraction. The land was initially developed for extensive sheep and beef farming. Vaughan and Megan converted their half of the family farm to dairying in 2002.
The farm is in transition, with two sons each buying out their dairy units. Vaughan and Megan have retained a calf block and have a little beef still. Vaughan also maintains a pine plantation around the coast himself, and sells to the Niagara Sawmill, enjoying the fact that some of it is used locally. The main feature of the farm, other than 4km of sandy beach, is the Otaitai Stream which has a small catchment of about 5000ha draining through the farm out into the bay. Although highly modified, the stream has an important role in the development of juvenile flounders, white bait and a good population of tuna (eels). “We are really thinking about the effects of our farming system on this waterway and what may be required for its enhancement.”
“Over the years the Catchment Board (now Environment Southland) drainage works has directed the water in and around our wetlands. Now with my work on the regional forum I realise if we could divert freshwater back through the wetlands, it would actually be a polishing system for the whole catchment of the Otaitai Stream that comes out down here past the flax mill.”
The Templetons have spent several years planting native species in the wetlands, and Vaughan is very proud of that work. “We’ve been working with the regional council, trying to poison the willows because they’re encroaching on the wetlands. The native plants are all in amongst those willows, it’s full of pittosporums, coprosmas and cabbage trees and they're coming up like fury.”
“The forum has really made me aware of the effects we can have on waterways, and in many cases in the past we weren’t really aware how damaging they were. Now we have a better understanding of the effects of excess nutrient loss and sediment, I think we can make significant progress. The real question is whether this is enough to meet the community’s expectations.”
The Regional Forum is tasked with providing the council and Te Ao Marama with recommendations on how Southland can achieve its goals for freshwater over the next 25 years. The Regional Forum is now drafting these recommendations, due to be presented mid-year. Vaughan believes the forum’s advice will be our best attempt at balancing the needs of our waterways for our children’s future and retaining a thriving economic base for our region.