by Ali Mackisack

To some, it looks just like another small urban creek, channelling water away from homes and into the river. But for one group of neighbours, it looked instead like a challenge and a chance to bring their community together: is it possible to turn this nondescript stormwater drain into an attractive and functioning habitat? And with the Awatotara Project finally underway, those neighbours and the community who have joined them, are now on their way to finding out!

A spring feeds the little watercourse as it trickles its way alongside the railway line at the northern end of Masterton, down to Mahunga Drive and across Oxford Street. It collects some urban runoff and makes its way into the Waipoua River. “People are familiar with the concept of planting up a wetland or a riverbank, but the fact that this is a constructed waterway with a number of landowners involved has added a layer of complexity. It’s taken a number of meetings with a wide range of people over at least a year, but the council, who manage the waterway, and Amatiatia Trust, who own some of the land it passes through, have been supportive. We’re delighted to be able to give it a go,” says Karyn, one of the neighbours who has galvanised the plan of turning the waterway into a functioning habitat.

The plan is to plant in a way that provides shelter and shade for the waterway, creating the best possible habitat for the creatures that might live in it. The group plans to use the least invasive techniques they can. The council has used diggers to remove some willows, but the group hopes that diggers won’t generally be needed to maintain the stream. They want to clear any obstructions manually. The willows were turned into mulch which, over the course of three working bees, has been piled up over layers of cardboard to suppress weeds and prepare the first section for planting. Two planting days have followed, with over 500 plants put in the ground by volunteers who have come on board, both from the immediate neighbourhood and beyond.

“People are keen to do something positive and constructive and we’ve had all sorts of individuals and groups get involved,” says Anna, another neighbour. Some people are interested in the ecology, others are interested in creating something that will be beautiful, and others are keen to get to know people in the street and surrounding area. Neighbours have donated plants or materials as well as time. The local Tribe Church got hands on planting and also provided “lovely manaakitanga” and kai for the first planting day. The Lansdowne Residents Association provided plants, and the Greater Wellington Regional Council loaned one of their Stream Health Assessment Kits, enabling a group of children to discover 14 kōura in the waterway. These were carefully returned to the creek in the hope that they will multiply as conditions for them improve.

“It’s neat to do something right outside our own backdoors,” says Karyn. “Climate change gives us direct evidence that we need to do a better job of understanding our world and looking after the environment we are part of. So why not start right here? We should end up with a beautiful, vibrant and healthy ecosystem and we’ve had the opportunity to build relationships and get to know the place we live along the way.”

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Photo: Hugo Adams helps at the Awatotara Planting Day (Joe Potangaroa)

Hugo Adams helps at the Awatotara Planting Day (Joe Potangaroa)