Episode 30: Milk and Water
On the next episode, screening 24th October 2015 at 7pm on TV ONE:
“Milk and Water”
Stu Muir has been called an “environmental pioneer” and a poster-boy for wetland restoration. Stu and his wife, jeweller Kim Jobson, have shouldered the responsibility for restoring a couple of hundred hectares of estuarine swamp at the mouth of the mighty Waikato River to its pristine state. The tidal wetland borders his 400 acre dairy farm at Aka Aka. It was a central part of his childhood - Stu grew up eeling, duck-shooting, canoeing and building huts here. These days his children are doing the same things so his emotional connection to it is strong.
The Muir clan arrived in New Zealand from Scotland in 1842 and started farming here in the 1860s - Stu’s kids are sixth generation on this land. Stu reckons his ancestors drank from these waterways and his kids should at least be able to swim in them.
He is very aware of his relationships with his Maori neighbours and the local iwi – Tainui. He learnt to speak Maori down at the local pub drinking with his Maori mates and their parents and grandparents. A whare on the farm was both an after-hours drinking spot for locals and a place where Stu could absorb Maori culture from the kuia.
The wetland restoration was started by Stu’s father but recently Stu has stepped up the project by a massive amount. When Tainui’s Waitangi Claim on the river was settled and Tainui regained kaitiaki status – guardianship - of the river, the Waikato River Authority was set up jointly by Tainui and the Crown to manage its health. The work was originally funded out of Stu and Kim’s pocket, but for the last couple of years the Authority has helped fund the work, with the money being used for pest control, channel clearance, digger hire and planting. Stu regards the project, and through it his relationship with Tainui and the river, as a good example of the concept of partnership inherent in the Treaty.
Stu’s agenda is not just altruistic. He is a keen white-baiter and the river banks were once a whitebait hatchery where, on a spring tide, the inanga would lay their eggs. While a healthy river estuary is the aim, a renewal of the old whitebait spawning grounds would please him greatly. There is nothing he likes more than a feed of the translucent little delicacies.
It’s dirty work. Stu is often up to his chest in the swamp. Contractors work a digger and Muir works a chainsaw, while Jobson and friends plant. The local Aka Aka Primary School, south-west of Waiuku, has an ongoing relationship with the wetland and visits to help with planting and watch progress on the whitebait spawning habitat regeneration project. This year 9000 natives will go in.
Waikato River Authority trust fund manager Sean Newland says Muir is a pioneer. "People have seen the work that Stuart's done and others along the river are picking up on that. People look over the fence, they see what someone else is doing... and they want to be a part of it."
Newland says anyone can plant 10 trees - it's the grit to plant 10,000 in swampland that sorts the hobbyist from the environmentalist.
For more about some environmental initiatives underway in the Waikato , visit:
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Ó TVNZ 2015