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How Terra Centric Helped The Gilchrists Boost On Farm Biodiversity




The Challenge 

The soultion

The results

Natives planted - with more to come

About the Gilchrist Brothers

The Gilchrist family own the 160ha Midhurst Farm in Swannanoa, and brothers Andrew and Peter are the latest Gilchrists to run the property. They have also added another 240ha of leased land to their farming operations.

The Gilchrists also run a busy agricultural spraying, precision ag, and agronomy business, employing 13 full-time staff.

The Challenge:
How to improve farm biodiversity—and reduce the rural-urban divide

Burgess Stream is a natural waterway that runs through the Gilchrists’ farm. The stream had been fenced off for years so had a good riparian margin, with upland bullies and other native fish found in the waterway.

While this made it the ideal place for the Gilchrists to start a waterway improvement project, it was something that Andrew Gilchrist says kept being deferred.

“It was something that had gone through my mind in the past but was very much on the back-burner—only because we need to prioritise where money gets spent. But this stuff has definitely been more prevalent in the media—and around the kitchen table.”

At the same time, Andrew’s noticed that the rural-urban divide in the community has been increasing over time.

“It’s good to be [improving the waterways] for numerous reasons, but one of them is that this whole rural-urban divide thing is definitely stronger than it ever used to be. So, if there’s an opportunity to show people who think we’re not ‘doing good’ that we actually really do care, then that’s the cream on top.”

However, these frustrations were ones that Andrew acknowledges the Gilchrists couldn’t solve alone.

The Solution:
A collaborative planting project that engages with the community

So, when Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) approached the Gilchrists with a proposal to help them improve the biodiversity of the waterways on their farm, Andrew was curious to hear more.

They came to us with a proposal, and Dan from Terra Centric was part of that plan. Initially, I wasn’t that keen to start off with, but with the help and support of Dan and WIL I certainly saw the light pretty quickly to go ‘well this is a bloody good thing, and let’s get into it’.”

As the project’s biodiversity lead, Dan developed a waterway enhancement plan for Burgess Stream. The plan included plant species that would work in a farming operations environment and had mahinga kai (food gathering) cultural values.

He also advocated for funding from one of the project partners—Environment Canterbury (ECan)—to pay for over half of the planting project costs. Andrew outlined how they then maximised the use of the funding:

“ECan gave us money for purchasing, planting, and maintaining the plants. We decided that with the seasonality of our business and having labour available we’d spend all the money on plants, and use our expertise and time to plant them. So, we’ve actually ended up planting a considerably [5x] larger area than was first envisaged.”

Dan then approached the local Swannanoa school to create community involvement in the project, inviting students and teachers to participate in planting activities.

“Dan made it all happen really. Like with getting the school involved, he came up with the idea and I said ‘yep, make it happen.’ I’ve certainly left it in his hands, which has been great.”

Once the planning and coordination were completed, the real work began.

During August 2021 the Gilchrists and their staff, along with 20 students, parents, and teachers, planted over 3500 natives along Burgess Stream—guided by Terra Centric’s planting plan.

And the project is only halfway through, with another 1500 natives earmarked for planting in the next couple of years.

The Results: Biodiversity boosted on family land for future generations

The more than 3500 natives planted at Burgess Stream have created a thriving environment that in the years to come will:

  • decrease aquatic weed growth
  • filter sediment to improve water quality
  • increase shading of the riparian margin
  • contribute organic matter to the soil
  • provide a quality habitat for aquatic and terrestrial fauna

All of which significantly improves the Gilchrists’ waterway biodiversity and ecosystems.

There were also some really positive outcomes for the Gilchrists’ staff and the wider community.

“It was a great team-bonding exercise for us. Whenever we had a chance, we went out there together. And yeah, it was hard work, but we’d all have a yarn and get the job done.”

“…and when the school came and helped us plant some; they loved it. The kids, they blew me away actually with how into it they were. Hopefully, Dan’s going to get them back to plant some more. I said to Dan ‘well that’ll be awesome cause they can actually go and see the ones that they’ve planted, and it’s not just a day out to plant some plants that get forgotten about’.”

Andrew acknowledges that he has now well and truly overcome his initial reservations about the project: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s got to be a good thing for the family land and for future generations.”

This project showcases the power that farmers have to help break down the rural-urban divide, and inspire those around them to take environmental action. As Dan from Terra Centric observed:

“For farmers to be positively recognised, all they need to do is start something like this—however big or small—in their own back yard. And Terra Centric is uniquely positioned to enable you to achieve this.”

If you too want to become a leader in enhancing our environment, contact Terra Centric today.

Burgess Stream restoration project kicks off

Burgess Stream restoration project kicks off

Burgess Stream Restoration Project Kicks Off

Tailoring a plan together with the landowner to specifically enhance the ecosystem qualities of the site, but in a way that still integrated with the surrounding farm system, was key to obtaining the buy-in of multiple stakeholders – enabling us to secure funding support and ultimately establish it successfully.



Efficient Farm Environment Design

Efficient Farm Environment Design

In early 2019 we were engaged to develop a site specific master plan for extensive native planting on a 280 Hectare dairy farm in mid Canterbury. The key issues for the project were increasing biodiversity, reducing the impact of the farm on the surrounding environment and mitigating sediment runoff into waterways whilst not retiring unrealistic amounts of productive land or inhibiting day-to-day farm operations, such as the movement of pivot irrigators. During an initial consultation with the clients they stated that they anticipated double-fencing and planting every fence on the property with native species – an expensive strategy with limited environmental outcomes other than enhancing the look of the property.

Through a series of site visits, walkabouts, further consultation with the landowners and aerial surveys to gather spatial data for further analysis, DCLA identified the key natural features on the property, and put forward an enhancement proposal that would not only yield greater environmental outcomes but save around 3 hectares of productive pasture from retirement. Part of the success of this process was encouraging the landowners to come up with a short statement of the vision they had for the natural environment on their farm, and incorporate this into the thinking behind the strategy. The plan produced was then able to be tendered with multiple suppliers to ensure the best rates for plant supply and labour, and also presented to funding providers to seek support in covering the costs of supply and planting.

Conservation and Biocontrol

Conservation and Biocontrol

Canterbury mudfish are one of the most critically endangered freshwater species in New Zealand. An opportunity arose in 2019 to work with Landowners, and other stakeholder agencies to develop an indigenous planting strategy for a 7 Hectare site known to have a remnant population of Canterbury Mudfish on a mid-Canterbury arable farm. Coincidentally, this was also a certified organic farm meaning not only were there unique requirements for the mudfish population, but also careful consideration would be needed for establishing native plant communities that did not have a negative impact on the farms cropping operation.
Species sampling was undertaken which yielded 5 Mudfish from 20 traps. Each site where fish were caught was then recorded and its characteristics noted. Further, a separate case study was also conducted of an arable farm on the coastal Canterbury Plains that had demonstrated by planting native plant species around a 0.4 hectare crop margin, it was possible to virtually eradicate noxious aphids from an adjacent 70 hectare wheat crop.
Learnings from each of these exercises enabled a detailed site analysis which then lead to the design of specific plant communities that would not only serve the needs of the Mudish population, but also help to colonize beneficial insects known to combat crop pests. Once complete, the plan also enabled the landowner to successfully attract funding support from a local trust to help with costs of purchasing plants, and providing volunteer labour.



Biodiversity Stocktake

Biodiversity Stocktake

The Waimakariri Irrigation Scheme covers approximately 24,000 Hectares, and supplies around 200 farmer-shareholders. In 2018, we were engaged to help the irrigation company establish a vision and a pathway towards protecting and enhancing indigenous biodiversity across the scheme by conducting a “stocktake” of existing sites of biodiversity interest or potential within the schemes’ area. The aim of this was to establish, first and foremost, what existing ecological habitat still remained and, if so, where this was so that decisions could be made about where to focus efforts first.
Using the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan to establish where the natural waterways were located within the farming landscape, we undertook a process of “interrogation” of each waterway by examining the entire length of each corridor using aerial imagery. This enabled us to plot sites of interest and allocate a reference code as well as an arbitrary value to each, with 1 being of little or no existing value but with the potential for restoration, and 5 being of high natural value.

With an area of 24,000 hectares to examine in less than 2 months, one of the biggest challenges was representing the key information in an easily digestible format for the clients, whilst at the same time making sure it would be easy to revisit for future detailed study. By layering a multitude of information in a digital map platform, we were able to produce a series of maps that showed “clusters” of sites of interest, but most importantly for the client how many of these were on shareholder land and therefore able to be accessed easily. In order to ensure easy future referencing and sharing of information, each site was recorded with a GPS location

The Biodiversity Stocktake has formed the basis of further studies for the same client since this time, which is currently enabling discussions with funding providers for possible investment and funding support for restoration on selected farms across this area.