Retirement Marks End of an Era

(Published on 4th July 2017)

At a time of heightened awareness around sustainable land and water management issues, the need to support farmers and rural communities as they transition toward good farm management practices is greater than ever. NZ Landcare Trust's Barbara Stuart has spent the last 18 years working with farmers, helping them to work together and adopt a proactive approach to change. Having had an influential role in the community and facilitated many successful projects, July 2017 marks the end of an era as Barbara retires from NZ Landcare Trust.

At an event last year which celebrated Barbara's work with NZ Landcare Trust, the Minister for the Environment Dr. Nick Smith applauded Barbara on her commitment to rural communities in 'The Top of the South' and for her passion and hard work supporting sustainable land and water management initiatives.

"The community approach of NZ Landcare Trust, and Barbara's skill in particular, has been influential in increasing awareness of sustainability issues amongst farmers and landowners, and has helped bring about practical change," the Minister continued.

Barbara often says how proud she is of the farmers and rural communities she works with. "They are hard working, open minded people who understand their land and want to leave it in a good condition for future generations."

"The rural community is full of amazing people. They're down to earth, because they've got to make a living, and owning land comes with a lot of responsibility. I feel really privileged to have worked with farmers around the region."

"Farmers want to do they right thing, they just need support to do it," added Barbara.

NZ Landcare Trust CEO Dr Nick Edgar has worked with Barbara for 15 years and says it has been a real privilege to watch her in action. "I believe Barbara's work in the Aorere catchment was a key reason for the Trust winning the inaugural NZ RiverPrize in 2015.  She has been a star performer for the Trust and I will miss her no nonsense, down to earth approach.  Her colleagues and I wish her all the best for the future and look forward to updates on her roles with the Walking Access Commission, the Conservation Board, and in grandmotherhood,” said Dr Edgar.

Looking back, many farmers in the Top of the South were amazed to discover that their working practices were having a negative impact on the environment. The rivers looked clear most of the time, and fish appeared healthy, so it simply hadn't occurred to them that there was a problem. Yet the science indicated water quality was in decline and change was needed to stop the slide. Once farmers got over the shock, the challenge was what to do about it. This is where Barbara played a vital role.

Rather than ignore the problem or blame others, with Barbara's help, farmers chose to adopt a proactive approach. They set about determining the exact nature of the problem and used this information as the platform for robust, practical solutions that could be implemented with confidence.

Barbara has used this proactive, community based approach to facilitate a number of award winning projects, including the Starbourgh/Flaxbourne soil conservation project, the Sherry River catchment project and the Aorere catchment management project.

Key to this approach was getting people together and encouraging them to share information and ideas. Anyone who knows Barbara will tell you, 'Barbara understands people.' She has a keen interest in their wellbeing and as a farmer herself understands the pressures and challenges of rural life. Barbara uses her links with numerous groups which include local councils, agribusiness, scientists and environmentalist to host public meetings where issues are openly discussed.

Barbara and her family are only too familiar with challenges. The loss of their son in a tragic accident ultimately led Barbara to take up the Regional Coordinator role with NZ Landcare Trust. Barbara said, "I had to get out of that sad place, and meeting all the farming families did that for me."

Having grown up on a sheep and beef farm in Canterbury, Barbara settled in Cable Bay with her husband Ian. Barbara has seen huge changes over the years, with growing levels of intensification followed by increasing awareness around sustainability.

Barbara said "The issue of stock having direct access to rivers and creeks has largely been overcome - these days the focus is now more on run-off from farmland."

Banks and businesses did not initially understand that farmers needed support to implement environmental goals, Barbara added. "If you can't get the support from stock and station agents and bankers, you're on the road to nowhere. You've got to get them on board."

Banks were unlikely to loan farmers money for environmental projects, but attitudes have improved. Lenders now understand the need for farms to be sustainable. These costs are business related and form part of responsibilities to be compliant with local council and industry regulations.

While Barbara may be moving on, she is keen to ensure that her farmers and rural communities continue to get the support they need. Barbara is delighted that Dr Annette Litherland will take on the role in July. Annette is well respected for her farming knowledge and has an excellent understanding of farming systems, which will help her find common ground and build strong working relationships.

"In my role it's always been about the relationships I've been able to develop with those people who are my champions. Without exception, they've been open and friendly and polite to me, even when it's probably been quite hard for them. I'm sure Annette will enjoy getting to know the communities and build on these valuable relationships." said Barbara.

Looking to the future, Barbara hoped the general public would try to be more understanding of farmers and the challenges they face. The majority of farmers are working hard to ensure the future sustainability of their businesses, both from an economic and an environmental perspective. Change of this scale can't happen overnight but with the right support we will get there.




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