When I came here, the farm was a mess. I knew what I was taking on – including the state of the soil. Parts of it can be very wet in the winter but there are also many portions that dry out extremely quickly, so I have a mix of ground to suit all sorts of conditions.

The property is saucer-shaped geographically and the previous owners had dug a labyrinth of ditches across the paddocks – obviously attempting to drain the winter water. For two seasons I skirted around the resulting chaos – deep ditches running everywhere and large mounds of dug-up dirt covered with weeds and thistles in the middle of the paddocks. I watched the water levels in the ditches rise and I watched the water levels in the ditches fall … depending on whether it rained or didn’t rain. I watched the puddles on the paddocks spread and the puddles on the paddocks disappear as it rained or didn’t rain and I came to the conclusion that the ditches did very little to ease the wetness. It was the water table underneath. When the water table rose, the farm became wet in certain areas and when the subterranean water level dropped … the wet areas dried out. Digging ditches was not going to drain anything and I spent quite some months questioning the rationale behind the mess that had been left behind. The centre of the farm was the site of an old swamp – drainage had nowhere to go, especially as most of the wetness came from underneath. You could have dug ditches all the way back to the boundary fence and still not drained any of the pasture as the surface water was totally linked to the level of the water table below the grass. But, in terms of the Nutrient Budget and the Nitrogen Loss requirements which every dairy farm is obliged to abide by, this little swampy area in the middle of the farm was my saviour and I made the decision to fence it off completely and return it to the numerous and varied water birds who frequented the paddocks.

There was a natural spring further along from the swamp and this fed into it but last season, when the whole of the Canterbury area fried in the worst drought ever, this natural spring (and its flow to the swamp area) dried up. I noticed small fish flapping around in the mud at the bottom of the dried-up spring and I mentioned it to a few people. I felt terrible watching them flapping away into the mud but there really wasn’t much I could do about it. However, it turned out they were an extremely endangered native “mudfish” species and this is what they did to survive such events. At the end of last year, a lovely young lady from an organisation called “Working Waterways Trust” approached me as she had heard from someone else that there might be mudfish in my place and the end result was, that I became a fisherman as we set traps in the now flowing again spring and conducted a search.

The result …. Yes!! The little dairy farm is a significant site for the very rare native upland bullies and the threatened mudfish. Now, since that first information-gathering fishing expedition, the stars and the moon and a strange set of circumstances have lined up and, coupled yet again with a huge bit of madness and a leap of faith … there is now a team of people who have come together to help me create a “Mudfish and Waterfowl Sanctuary” smack in the centre of the farm. It’s not going to be an easy project and it’s not going to be completed within a time frame that I will probably see but it will be done and I am so honoured to be part of the beginning of it. For once, I don’t need to say What the hell have I done? as this is absolutely the right thing to do – I need to return this part of the farm back to its original owners … the native fish and the water birds. It will also be a privilege to share this journey with others as my little farm provides a small community of humans the chance to become tiaki.

Watch this space.

Ma te whaomoomo e toitu ai nga ahuatanga e ora ai nga rauropi katoa.
Conservation sustains the conditions necessary for living things.