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Environment Southland Community Award winners announced

Murihiku Southland’s environmental champions were celebrated tonight at the 27th Environment Southland Community Awards in Invercargill.

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said we are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate the positive work that’s going on in our communities across the region. There are some incredible finalists, going the extra mile and just getting on with things as Southlanders so often do, inspiring others and paving the way forward.

“The judges were impressed by the diversity of this year’s finalists, their community connections, and their willingness to share knowledge with others.”

The awards are the longest running awards in the regional council sector, he said.

“It’s a highlight each year to come together and celebrate the positive work that’s going on in our community. Our finalists are everyday people and we’re thrilled that we can use this opportunity to share their stories and join them on their environmental journey.”

The winners of each award category are detailed below.

Individual Environmental Action or Leadership

Sponsored by ANZ

Winner – Sarah Bynevelt

Sarah Bynevelt has led the transformation of Sanford’s Bluff processing facility into a high-performing, proud, sustainability powerhouse. As site manager, Sarah has been hugely focused on reducing plastic use, clever recycling that benefits her community, using every part of every fish so nothing goes to waste, and inspiring her team and community to make sustainability a priority.

Since she began in 2021 she has helped Sanford’s salmon division recycle or repurpose over 1,300 tonnes of waste materials. That’s 82.8 percent of waste diverted away from landfill, as part of a goal to reduce total waste by at least 70 percent.

She led the commissioning and installation of a new processing line to make work easier for her employees. She has also overseen the implementation of a gumboot recycling programme, efforts to repurpose old equipment for the community and regular rubbish pick-ups. With her team and Mainfreight, she reduced the outer liner requirements for polybins, which has already saved more than 810kg of plastic. Under Sarah’s leadership, the entire Sanford Bluff Processing team is involved in supporting environmental and sustainability outcomes.

Sarah volunteers for the Graeme Dingle Foundation and mentors students at Southland Boys’ High School. She is working with other Sanford teams within New Zealand to create fully recyclable packaging for salmon products, using local businesses in the process.

Judges’ comments: Sarah advocates for her team and has created a positive people-centred culture at Sanford’s in Bluff. She has had a hugely positive impact on the work site in a relatively short time and is driven and innovative in her approach to waste minimisation.

Environmental Action in Education

Sponsored by Essential Resources

Winner – Hedgehope School

Hedgehope School is involved in a fascinating ‘Forest School’ project in Sherwood Forest at Tussock Creek, a privately owned, nationally significant rare ecosystem protected by a QEII covenant. Students engage with the natural world, learning about the flora, fauna, bugs and freshwater science. They are very active in driving this project, setting their own direction of inquiry and projects within the broader project.

Aspects of the curriculum are carefully incorporated into ‘Forest School’ so students also learn other skills such as supporting one another, and communicating what they learn through the ‘Sherwood Sharp’ YouTube news show. The project includes collecting data on trap performance and investigating how to improve this, and building skills to operate in the natural world safely and with confidence.

Regular Sherwood Forest visits are a highlight for students who have developed an increasing love of the forest. In this short time they have re-activated predator control efforts, cleaned up interpretation signs, undertaken two ‘Bioblitzes’, and much more. The kids are learning that nature is not separate from us. Their focus on recycling and reusing also includes a community shop at school selling second-hand goods.

The school is thankful to the Sherwood landowners, previously Nan and Rod Sinclair and now Irene and Grant Given, who allow the school access to their property for the project.

Judges’ comments: This is a truly student-led project, driven by the students who set their own direction of inquiry that generates amazing community conversations around sustainability and responsibility. They are well adjusted and resilient and the project is brilliantly incorporated into every aspect of their learning.

Environmental Leadership in Farming

Sponsored by Wynn Williams

Winner – Glenrannoch Farm

A strong environmental focus combined with some innovative thinking is paying dividends for the owners of Glenrannoch Farm at Dipton. Chris and Serra Stewart have owned the farming business for around 20 years. Their son Jake and his wife Josephine have been involved during the past three years and are incrementally taking on more responsibilities for running the farm.

They run the 625ha sheep and beef farm that includes flats, rolling and steeper land. There are many shelter belts, some areas of retired gullies and lots of ponds and sediment traps in the gullies, which develop into waterways.

The farm continues to identify new opportunities to improve. This includes methods of wintering stock, increasing biodiversity habitat, reducing erosion and riparian planting. They are also involved in the Greater Dipton Catchment Group’s Carbon Neutral Dipton project, as one of the five partner farms that modelled scenarios to reduce on-farm emissions and shared the findings with the community in July.

Innovative winter grazing methods is a key area of change the Stewarts have implemented, with mixed species crops that largely maintain vegetation cover on slopes after sheep grazing. This helps reduce sediment and nutrient losses from winter crops. In addition, Chris has been designing and trialling his own plant protectors to help improve the survival of native trees and shrubs, illustrating their innovation and forward-thinking approach to on-farm challenges.

Judges’ comments: Inter-generational farming and doing the right things because they are the right thing to do are two of the hallmarks of the Stewart family’s Dipton farm. They have strong community links through involvement in the Carbon Neutral Dipton project, have a sustainability lens across everything they do, and have an innovative approach to finding on-farm solutions.

Environmental Action in Biodiversity & Biosecurity

Sponsored by ILT

Winner – Te Waiau Mahika Kai Trust

Te Waiau Mahika Kai Trust is working towards the regeneration of a rare lowland ecosystem near Blackmount, creating a corridor from the Takitimu Mountains to the Waiau River.

The 445ha Te Kōawa Tūroa o Takitimu property was purchased in 2001 by Ngāi Tahu and vested in the Te Waiau Mahika Kai Trust. The Purpose of the Trust, which was established in 1997, is to promote and restore mahinga kai resources in the Waiau catchment and conduct research and projects for the benefit of Ngāi Tahu. They aim to enhance the active relationship of Ngāi Tahu people with mahinga kai resources of te Waiau awa, reconnecting people back to the whenua.

Restoration of the Jericho Valley – where Te Kōawa Tūroa o Takitimu lies, includes the creation of a network of tracks across the site, monitoring of birdlife, pest species and native regeneration. Pig and deer control through trapping and hunting is ongoing.

The Trust holds regular community days, residential courses and wānanga at Te Kōawa. In the early days, the Trust was instrumental in setting up and undertaking the Elver (baby eel/tuna) Trap and Transfer programme and migrant tuna programme, to allow tuna to migrate in the Waiau, which they cannot do naturally due to the Manapōuri hydro power scheme. This programme is now managed by Meridian Energy on behalf of the Trust and Ngāi Tahu.

Judges’ comments: The trust has an excellent strategy and an inspirational vision for the future of Te Kōawa Tūroa o Takitimu. Connectedness with the past and a vision for future are strong tenets of their work, underpinned by great community relationships and innovation on the ground.

Environmental Action in Water Quality Improvement

Sponsored by Fish & Game Southland

Winner – Hedgehope Makarewa Catchment Group

Hedgehope Makarewa Catchment Group’s two major projects are focused on making great science accessible and looking after the wellbeing of each other, the environment and community.

The Winter Crop Establishment Project was a cross-sector pilot study to gain on-farm information about different aspects of winter grazing to support farmers, and meet the upcoming Essential Freshwater Regulations. The study tested whether utilising alternative crop establishment methods for fodder beet, swedes and kale improved soil structure and strength. They gathered a huge amount of data, working closely with Southern Dairy Hub, an independent agronomist and 10 commercial farms.

The second project, Understanding Our Land to Drive Change, saw the group work alongside Land & Water Science to use science and local knowledge to understand how variation in landscape characteristics drives water quality outcomes for the catchment. Using cutting edge technology, they created and tested an online platform to help share the data with the catchment’s landowners in an easy-to-understand and view way.

The whole Hedgehope community works together to connect, inspire and support each other to make great decisions that look after and benefit land, water and people.

Judges’ comments: The catchment group has used science and data well to produce a highly useable mapping tool for everyone who lives in the area. Their dedication to the winter grazing trial, and the sharing of knowledge is impressive. They are doing these innovative projects for the benefit of the whole community.

Environmental Leadership and Innovation in Business

Sponsored by AON

Winner – Aquila Sustainable Farming

Aquila Sustainable Farming pride themselves on providing great places to work, ensuring a culture of support and development so everyone is onboard with their environmental goals. They took over the asset management of six Southland dairy farms in 2017 and oversaw their conversion to EU certified organic, becoming fully certified in November 2018

Their goal is “to ensure the production of the highest quality organic milk”. To achieve this, they have a set of values that focus on three priority areas. By focusing on people, animals and environment they support their teams’ livelihoods. They believe their people are the key to a successful business and empower their teams to make the best decisions they can. They develop the skills of all staff by providing industry training and supporting professional development.

Animal welfare always comes first when making decisions about productivity. They believe in protecting their land and waterways, and reducing air pollution, whilst benefiting the health and quality of life for their teams and livestock.

They work closely with local suppliers to keep things in Southland and provide opportunity for the region. Their objectives are to reduce their carbon footprint, nutrient losses and to farm sustainably. Their stocking rate has reduced by 30 percent with less intensive farming practices improving soil condition, animal health and nutrient loss.

Judges’ Comments: An innovative and supportive team environment is at the root of Aquila’s success. Staff are happy and love their work, which is based around strong ethics and values. The farming operations are being future-proofed by investment in people, the community and a science-driven approach.

Highly Commended – Fiordland Wapiti Foundation/With Wild Project

Environmental Action in the Community

Sponsored by WM Environmental

Winner – Stewart Island / Rakiura Community & Environment Trust (SIRCET)

The Stewart Island/Rakiura Community & Environment Trust (SIRCET) has been working on environmental restoration for 20 years. SIRCET’s objectives are increasing the native bird population around Halfmoon Bay by reducing predation and improving the health of the forest ecosystem, providing a safe habitat for re-introduction and survival of species threatened with extinction.

Jobs for Nature funding enabled SIRCET to expand its operations under the Halfmoon Bay Habitat Restoration Project. The newly expanded project ‘Restoring Rakiura’ significantly increased the area in which SIRCET provided predator control from 210ha to 310ha. It also allowed significantly more area to be searched for the invasive pest plant Darwin’s barberry.

To meet their objectives SIRCET worked on predator control of rats, feral cats and possums. This included creating a trap network on Horseshoe Point, where very little control had been done before. They also set up to do grid searching and control of Darwin’s barberry throughout 1280ha of land around the township. The funding allowed for the recruitment of 17 full time paid staff, which meant that Darwin’s barberry control, which normally would have taken 10 years to achieve, was completed within a two year timeframe. A community liaison was also employed to oversee the link to the local community and work with local and visiting schools.

Judges’ comments: This is an outstanding group who are really covering their bases with predator control, species monitoring, a nursery, great community engagement and positive stakeholder and landowner relationships. They have clear goals, are well-structured and have great people involved.

Highly Commended – Fiordland Trails Trust

Councillors’ Award

Sponsored by Environment Southland Councillors

Winner – Halfmoon Bay School

Halfmoon Bay School students are experiencing outdoor education to the max, and in the process are learning to appreciate and look after their unique environment.

The Stewart Island/Rakiura school has been an Enviroschool since 2012, with students exposed to a wide range of activities across different locations on the island. These activities include exploring and identifying the wide range of fungi on the island, and the setting up, checking and maintenance of a rat-trapping line. A rat-trapping competition saw students catch more than 600 rats, garnering them international media attention. They work closely with Stewart Island/Rakiura Community & Environment Trust on penguin monitoring and operate a kura kai garden within the school grounds, producing food for school events.

Students have enjoyed educational trips to Ruapuke Island, Ulva Island and Port William among others. They undertake a wide range of activities through environmental education, including Tītī Island social science investigation, whitebait

mahi, helping check trap lines on Ulva Island, a survival ocean swim, freshwater kayaking, tramping, an overnight bivvy stay, foraging and hunting for kai, litter intelligence on the beaches and track maintenance with Department of Conservation.

Students and teachers are immersed in the activities, are well supported by the community, and are making valuable community connections and helping to ensure their sustainability into the future.

Judges’ comments: Environmental awareness is embedded through everything the students do, with learning wrapped around all the activities. They are very future focused, with older students working with younger students, and returning students helping out too. They have pride in their special island home – and a desire to protect and enhance it.


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