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  • New Zealand has 425,000 kilometres of rivers and streams to look after. Catchment groups are being formed around the country to look after our waterways from the mountains to the sea. These community and citizen science groups are a positive way for schools and students to get some hands-on learning while giving back to their own communities. In some cases, schools have also driven the formation of such groups.

    Rights: Victoria Metcalf/Participatory Science Platform

    Stream clean-up

    Community groups are an integral part of local conservation efforts.

    There are many groups operating around New Zealand that you can get involved in. If you are interested in either starting your own group or looking at the work of these groups in a context of science and society, there are a multitude of resources available (see the useful links at the end of this article).

    This resource aims to outline some of the key steps for initiating and taking part in a project to restore a local stream. Collaboration is vital for restoration projects, and we do not propose that a school undertake any such project alone!

    The big picture

    Many of New Zealand’s streams and rivers originally flowed through dense bush where the forest held soil together, shaded the water and dropped leaf litter and insects to feed native fish. Most waterways now pass through towns and farmland. Human impacts on estuaries and waterways have resulted in streams that are now silt-laden, less shaded, overly enriched with nutrients and polluted with contaminants.

    Rights: Williams, William, 1859-1949. Kaiwharawhara Stream, Wellington. Williams, Edgar Richard, 1891-1983 :Negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, colour transparencies, monochrome prints, photographic ephemera. Ref: 1/2-140323-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22347324

    Kaiwharawhara Stream, ca 1885

    Kaiwharawhara Stream in Wellington. This archival photo, in the Alexander Turnbull Library, was taken over 120 years ago and yet already there are signs of human impact on the environment. The beginning of bush clearing is evident on the right-hand side of the image. Today, the stream passes through a densely populated urban area just outside the central city business district.

    If you want to help protect or improve the health of streams in your catchment, it’s important to start with a strong understanding of your stream and catchment. You need to investigate what is present in order to understand what flora and fauna were historically there and what the situation is now, including weedy species and pests. This will assist you to understand the issues and challenges for the flora and fauna and the stream of interest. This information is vital for formulating a plan and for providing baseline data that you can use to later assess the effectiveness of implemented measures.

    Talk to locals, iwi and expert organisations and explore your local museum and council archives to help build a background picture about:

    • what fish and other species (native and exotic) are currently and/or historically in your stream
    • catchment soils, flooding potential, vegetation cover
    • current and historical stream and catchment photos, reports and maps
    • existing programmes to restore/ protect streams
    • developments planned in the catchment
    • contaminated sites (old mines, tanneries, landfills, sheep dips)
    • current sources of potential contamination (water treatment plants, industries)
    • rules or requirements about stream works (planting banks, upgrading culverts).
    Rights: Victoria Metcalf, Participatory Science Platform

    Testing water clarity

    Water clarity is assessed with a 1 m long acrylic tube.

    At this stage, there might be the opportunity to organise or take part in a bioblitz, make and carry out a quadrat survey, survey water quality or observe freshwater macroinvertebrates.

    Next up, you’ll want to map your site by walking or boating the length of your stream, if possible. This stage could be done concurrently with your work building the big picture.

    A map can also be made from a screen-grab from Google Earth or a local government database. When mapping, check for and take photos and note the location and state of:

    • springs, seepages and wetlands
    • culverts, dams and weirs (are they fish friendly?)
    • waterfalls, rapids or other natural fish passage barriers
    • bank erosion, stock access, areas with no riparian shade
    • ephemeral (seasonal) streams
    • potential spawning areas
    • pipes and potential sources of discharges (water treatment plants, industrial sites, landfills)
    • polluted areas (cloudy/smelly water, litter, dead fish)
    • invasive weeds and other pest plants.

    Discuss your findings with the regional council and immediately report any signs of pollution, hazards or invasive species that need urgent attention.

    Get together

    Form a catchment care group with neighbours and other interested parties to develop a vision for the catchment. Together, using your collated background information and maps, set the goals of your group. Some goals may be to:

    • provide habitat for aquatic wildlife such as our freshwater fish and native birds
    • improve water quality for safer recreational use
    • beautify the catchment with native plants
    • restore whitebait spawning sites
    • remove barriers to native fish passage
    • reduce flooding and prevent or minimise erosion
    • regularly monitor stream health
    • fence and restore wetlands to allow the wetland to filter out silt.

    List what prevents your vision or goals, and talk to people who may be able to assist you with them.

    Develop an action plan

    The next step is developing an action plan to achieve your goals. These steps might include riparian planting or fixing culverts and installing ramps and baffles. To learn about practical aspects of riparian planting in your area, look at the resource Planting stream edges. Other helpful ideas for stream restoration for the conservation of native freshwater fish can be explored in Native fish in the city.

    Healthy farms, healthy fish

    Learn how farms can keep waterways healthy for those downstream and for our precious native freshwater fish, all while benefiting farm health and the farming operation’s bottom line.

    Keep a watching brief

    Monitoring is important! It’s easy to get so caught up working on restoration you forget to stop and take stock of your progress or to keep an eye out for new or unexpected problems.

    Aorere: a winning catchment

    In 2006, a group of concerned dairy farmers in Golden Bay came together to improve the water quality of the Aorere River and the broader catchment. Making sure their cattle don’t taint a $15 million aquaculture industry at the bottom of the catchment was a major objective.

    Rights: The NZ Landcare Trust

    Aorere Catchment Project

    A page from the NZ Landcare Trust publication Aorere: Our River Our Future. The booklet celebrates the success of the local community in cleaning up their catchment.

    The successful project was driven by deep family links to the area and a strong commitment to implementing best-management practices on the farm. In 2002, local shellfish harvest rates were around 28% – today, they are up to 79%!

    Explore ways people can help restore rural waterways for our native freshwater fish in our Healthy farms, healthy fish interactive.

    Learn more about the Aorere Catchment Project and download the publication, which celebrates the community efforts.

    Related content

    Students help restore mauri to the Oruarangi Stream is an example of how students can work together with other stakeholders on restoration projects.

    Learn about some of the issues that land use has on waterways and how planning for change can help mitigate these issues.

    Our recorded webinars Pest detectives and Eco-explorers provide information on how to scaffold student learning opportunities and ecological investigations.

    It is going to take all of us working together to rebuild the health of our rivers and streams, meet Dr Amanda Valois who is working to build community connections and engagement with freshwater health.

    The Connected article The fish highway covers a scientist's discovery that native fish and tuna were using Wellington’s stormwater system as access between streams and the sea.

    Waitī – freshwater environments notes the supreme importance of water quality on mauri, mahinga kai and manaakitanga.

    Aotearoa has abundant freshwater resources. The Hub has an abundance of freshwater resources too. We’ve got them organised in this handy interactive, complete with a PLD article to get you started!

    Activity ideas

    The Ake Ake model is a pictorial mapping of someone’s perspective. The model is used to encourage iwi to share their views and values and to communicate what they would like the future to look like. Learn about this Model for identifying cultural indicators and adapt the Ake Ake, forever and ever activity to help your students to map their views, values and vision for their local environment.

    Getting good advice

    Stream restoration work is a collaborative activity – you need to reach out and form relationships with experts and knowledgeable locals in your area.

    These groups are likely to have information about your catchment and how to restore it or may wish to get involved:

    Expert resources:


    This resource has been adapted from the Hooked on native fish downloads developed by the NZ Landcare Trust. The Science Learning Hub acknowledges the help of the NZ Landcare Trust in adapting this work.

      Published 18 December 2017, Updated 15 January 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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