Rethink needed on waterway fencing

by Anonymous Author

New research on keeping stock out of rivers and streams requires an urgent and radical rethink of the current national riparian fencing strategy, according to Fish & Game. 

Currently, streams wider than a metre and deeper than 30cm must be fenced to keep stock out of them, but this rule doesn’t apply to smaller waterways.

However, New Zealand scientific research just published in the international magazine Journal of Environmental Quality questions the current approach.

The research by Lincoln University Professor Dr Richard McDowell, the principal scientist for AgResearch-Invermay’s Environment Group and chief scientist for the National Science Challenge, has found the smaller, exempt streams actually account for the majority (77%) of the contamination load in a catchment. 

His research says as a result, not requiring smaller streams to be fenced may simply be undermining efforts to stop declining water quality.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said the research paper makes for sobering reading.

“This is an extremely important piece of research,” Johnson said.

“We now have the science to show what we have long suspected that small waterways are crucially important to the environment and need to be properly protected from contamination.”

He said protecting these small streams needs to be an urgent priority and there is now emphatic public demand for better water quality.

“These smaller waterways are the capillaries of our lakes and rivers and provide essential habitat and breeding areas for a range of species.

“Yet, the current approach means they can be treated like farm drains for animal effluent and farm run-off.

“This has to change. If the farming sector is serious about reducing its impact on water quality and restoring rivers to be swimmable, then it has to exclude stock from all water bodies, regardless of size, and create more extensive riparian buffer zones.”