Ambassador Update: Fred Lichtwark

(Published on 21st November 2014)

Landcare Ambassador and founder of 'Whaingaroa Harbour Care' Fred Lichtwark is a colourful character who has championed the planting of more than 1.2 million trees around the Whaingaroa (Raglan) Harbour catchment.

With help from farmers and the local community, Fred has led an extensive riparian planting programme which helped improve water quality and aquatic habitat in many streams entering the harbour. This in turn led to a dramatic improvement in fish stocks in the harbour itself. Additional social and economic improvements have sprung from the work, earning Fred a Landcare Ambassador award in 2012.

We recently caught up with Fred at a cafe in Raglan, where we enjoyed coffee and whitebait fritters. As we tucked into the delicious meal, Fred proudly informed us that he personally caught the main ingredient earlier that morning in a stream running alongside the cafe - something that would have been highly unlikely in 1995 when Raglan was considered one of the worst fisheries in New Zealand.

Fred doesn't describe himself as a greenie, in fact his motivations are very much focussed on harvesting natures bounty - he loves to catch and eat fish, and a healthy productive harbour provides the best opportunities to do this. An understandable perspective given the quality of the delicious whitebait fritters!

While Fred spoke passionately about fishing he also demonstarted a deep understanding of both the harbour and the land management issues surrounding it; believing that the relationship between the environment and agriculture can be a positive one. Fred shares NZ Landcare Trust's view that farms are businesses and therefore need to be profitable. The key is maintaining profitable production levels while reducing negative environmental impacts.

Productivity of the aquatic life in the Harbour has without question improved, and farmers have demonstrated the financial benefits of fencing and riparian planting programmes, including reduced stock losses, healthier stock, reduced veterinary bills, reduced soil loss, lower drain digger bills, and increased productivity per head. In fact a study by World Wide Fund for Nature suggested in some cases milk production had increased by up to 20 percent, while significant benefits were also seen in sheep and beef operations.

The result has been over 60 farmers and landowners have made use of Whaingaroa Harbour Care's services, which has evolved from a simple native plant nursery to a business offering a full riparian planting service; from initial planning right through to 'plants in the ground'.

Fred subscribes to the view that you shouldn't try to tell people what to do, he believes the best way forward is to assist those that want your help. While the Whaingaroa Harbour Care model has already proven successful, Fred would like to encourage even more farmers to seek his help. To do this he is contributing to a 'farm trial' that aims to prove the benefits of planting programmes by capturing qualitative data using technology to track the progress of several key indicators.

The farm in question is located at Pirongia and operated by Tony and Shirley Brown - who Fred describes as an amazing farming family. Whaingaroa Harbour Care secured funding for the project from the Waikato River Authority's 'Waikato River Clean Up Fund'. The Browns will use a combination of technologies to measure milk production, animal movements, pasture quality etc. The key is maintaining a rigorous approach to data collection to ensure the results can stand up to scrutiny.

Fred said "It will take five to six years before we are able to see the true results from the trial, but having said that, we should see improvements within one milking season. What I expect is a continual trend that reflects ongoing improvements."

The case supporting riparian planting programmes is becoming increasingly strong yet many farmers remain to be convinced.  If the farm trial can deliver clear unambiguous, unbiased evidence supporting the benefits of riparian restoration, Fred could be fielding many more enquiries from eager farmers. The implications could be huge with the potential to influence farm management systems all around the country.

You can see a movie clip of a presentation Fred delivered at the NZ Landcare Trust conference in 2012:





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