Posted By QEII National Trust | November 11, 2021

It couldn’t have been a better day for the annual Southland Ecology Restoration Network (SERN) Spring field trip, the sun was shining and QEII regional representative for Waiau Catchment Mark Sutton, put on his hosting hat to show off three magnificent sites along the lower Waiau valley to a group of thirty keen attendees.  
The event was a group effort with SERN organising the day, Environment Southland providing funding for the bus and Mark Sutton from QEII who worked with the landowners to visit the sites and shared his extensive knowledge of the areaGuests were a mix of people from rural and urban backgrounds, including several QEII covenantors, QEII board director Neil Cullen and QEII regional representative for Southland, Jesse Bythell. 

From left to right: Neil Cullen, QEII Board member; Mark Sutton, QEII, Waiau Trust rep; Jesse Buthell, QEII rep; Warrick Day, QEII covenantor.

Mark, who is also involved with the Waiau Fisheries and Wildlife Trustbegan the field trip at the in the lower Waiau where the Trust has reinstated wetlands as part of a whitebait enhancement project. The Trust transformed the area from farmland 10 years ago and since the last SERN visit to these wetlands in 2008, the area of open water has increased by 30 hectares. The Trust continuetheir work to establish a network of wetlands for the benefit of whitebait, eels, and other wildlife. The wetlands are all carefully linked so fish can move easily between the series of ponds and channels and the main river. The area also has flax and native plants established and the revegetation work was also a key interest point on the trip and talked through the failures and successes of the direct seeding trials.  

Whitebait project wetland. Photo credits: Mark Sutton

The next stop was Broadlands Bush on the banks of the Waiau River, a 12-hectare podocarp forest remnant owned by the Day family. The Day family have many QEII covenants and recently protected Broadlands Bush with a QEII open space covenant, which has given the forest the chance to be restoredWarrick Day and his son, Lije took the group down to see the magnificent tōtara inside the covenant, which have been estimated to be over 1,000 years oldThe forest also supports a range of threatened plants associated with riparian forest which is now quite rare in the area and Warrick’s passion and determination to protect this area left an impression on those who attended. 

Guests gathered under the 1000 year old tōtara tree. Photo credit: Jesse Bythell

The last stop for the day was Wairaki Oxbow Lagoon, a wetland owned by the Smith family, which has also been protected by a QEII open space covenant. The wetland has retained its natural character with remnants of tōtara on the escarpment and flax and carex around the edgesThe lagoon has been identified as one of the most important habitats for longfin eels in the Waiau River catchment and boasts wonderful bird life including NZ scaup, Australasian coot, and marsh crake. The Smith family are working with The Waiau Habitat Enhancement Trust to develop walking tracks for public access, as well as fencing and upcoming revegetation work.

The annual SERN field trips are a fantastic opportunity for those who attend to swap notes on how to tackle projects and find out what is happening in Southland. Although numbers for the field trip were less than originally planneddue to social distancing requirements, it was a wonderful day and guests went away with some great insightinto examples of exceptional conservation work happening in the Waiau Catchment area.