Photo by Shellie Evans

Felicity Brough’s farm is a winner with the birds

Felicity Brough shares her farm with some watchful kārearea. She’s a fan of the kārearea and has gone to a lot of effort to make her farm a happy habitat for them.

Because of the work she and her husband Mark have done protecting and restoring wetlands on their farm they recently became the 2020 Regional Supreme Winners in the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

The Broughs are sheep and beef farmers in Aria, in the Waitomo district. Felicity is also the Walking Access Commission’s Waikato-based regional field advisor.

“We’ve chosen to have a farming style that enables us to do other things to balance on-farm and off-farm work. We’ve tried several types of farming systems and this is the one that suits us the best.”

For their low-impact farming to work they had to make the farm efficient. That has meant fencing off the waterways and wetlands so that stock don’t get caught in the drains and the swamps

“It’s made it easier to muster. It’s also easier when we put fertilizer on because we’re not fertilizing the waterways, just the productive parts of the land.”

“A big change is that we don’t have to get the digger in to clear our drains, because the stock don’t erode the creek banks. So that is a financial saving. But it has also improved water quality by not digging.”

“We’ve got freshwater mussels| kākahi. So if you keep digging your drains out, what does that do to the mussels? It must degrade their habitat over time if you keep digging them out.”

The judges of the Balance Farm Environmental Awards praised the Broughs for skilfully matching land use to land capability. But, for Felicity, it’s also about enjoying the land.

“Biodiversity is a long-held interest of ours. We’re interested in planting trees because it makes a nicer environment to work in. And, we like the birdlife. I have a large garden and we’ve always had good birdlife. By putting in more trees it has created bird corridors within the farm.”

One of those birds to use the corridor of trees is the sparrow hawk.

“It’s fascinating being out on the farm, doing work on the farm and they’re watching. They have amazing eyes. The other special ones are the kingfishers, pīwakawaka, bellbirds and tomtits - and we’ve got lots. The tui come and go and we’ve got lots of kererū.”

When she’s not farming Felicity is a Walking Access Commission regional field advisor. As with her farm, a lot of her work involves clarifying access to riparian land and waterways.

“Access to waterways and along waterways is something that we get a lot of people enquiring about. People want to enjoy waterways for fishing, swimming and access to other areas. People are looking for access to waterways in rural areas. But also people in peri-urban areas, where the population is building up and new subdivisions are going in.”

Felicity says the key issue for access waterways is helping farmers understand where their legal boundaries are. Sometimes their legal boundary is along the waterway. Sometimes there is public land between them and the waterway. And the farmer may or may not be aware of that. The Commission assists farmers to work out where their boundaries are.

Recently Felicity has also been working on the Commission’s Franklin North Waikato Project to integrate trails into the fast-growing towns in the area. She says the project is about improving access to the outdoors. Sport Waikato has noticed an increasing demand for self-organised recreation, as opposed to traditional, organised team sport.

“Increasingly, people want to go walking, cycling, walking with a pram, walking with a dog. It fits in with their lifestyle. And so they are saying, where can I go walking? Where can take my dog, where can I ride my horse?

Felicity's job is to encourage councils to make provision for that and to recognise people's changing needs.

She says it’s important to rethink how to provide accessible, good quality outdoor experiences for people in urban areas.

“I have the opportunity when I want to exercise, I can go on the farm, and it’s good exercise. I like the way the terrain is uneven. I don’t have to get into my car to exercise. When you live in town you don’t necessarily have those opportunities."

Felicity says that’s one of the big things that COVID-19 has highlighted. People have been at home and they have wanted to for a walk from their front door, with their families.

“We recognise that exercising outdoors is good for your mental and physical health. It’s about encouraging councils and landowners on board to provide opportunities for communities to get outdoor and active.”

Page last updated: May 19, 2020, 10:10 AM