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Digging it . . . Five Forks School pupils (from left) Gracie Ruddenklau (9), Ruby Williams (10), and Lilly Francis (9) dig in. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

A desire to let people have easy access to a river is the driver behind Jane and Lyndon Strang’s Clifton Falls walkway project.

The couple’s farm, Maruakoa, is at Clifton Falls, on the banks of the Kakanui River, and they have been working for about two years clearing broom and gorse from the area, establishing a riverside walking track, and planting “wildlife corridors”, Mrs Strang said.

“The access to the river was really limited … and we just wanted to give people the opportunity to access a river. To actually walk along the river, and access it in so many different spots. Just enjoy the river really.

“I don’t think there’s that many rivers in North Otago where you can fully have that experience of the water. Like, with our kids, we used to drop them in at the top and they’d kayak down, so they’d have that kind of cool water experience. So now it’s much more accessible for people.

“That was the drive behind it. And then also for the biodiversity, you’ve got the wildlife – trying to link these wildlife corridors.”

She estimated up to 100 people at a time would use the spot during the summer and she hoped that would increase, with the improved access.

Five Forks School pupils were happy to spend their first day back at school out of the classroom getting their hands dirty last Thursday.

Thirty-five children, mostly from years 3 to 8, helped to plant 1000 native plants as part of a North Otago Sustainable Land Management jobs for nature scheme, and were joined by parents and the Waiareka Valley Lions. Over the next three weeks, a total of 2500 natives would go in the ground.

The day was initially planned for August 18 – a day after New Zealand was suddenly put into Alert Level 4 – so getting the job done was a matter of urgency.

Five Forks year 5-8 teacher Alice Kingan said the children loved it and it was the perfect way for them to spend their first day back at school.

“They get so stuck in and just get it done. It’s great,” Miss Kingan said.

“It’s a good way for them to catch up, and still be working.”

Five Forks pupils had also been part of the first planting which took place about a year ago, closer to the bridge. That had been funded by the Otago Regional Council ECO Fund, Mrs Strang said.

“The support from the school is awesome, these kids are amazing. They’re just working like little machines.”

Other helpers have been from Westpac Bank agribusiness, and the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark.

The Strangs had initially taken the project on single-handedly, but were happy to accept help when offered, Mrs Strang said.

“It was extremely slow going, because we had the gorse and the broom to get through,” she said.

“So I’d go ahead with the broom cutter to try to cut, like the broom and all the shrubs were over my head, you just couldn’t see.

“It would have taken us absolutely years to get where we’re at. This way it’s just sped the whole process up by probably a decade.”

There was a huge variety of native plants, from flaxes through to 20m-high trees, she said.

“We asked for a 25% canopy cover, so we can get that forest environment.”

The track started at the bridge and went for 2km along the river. It was open to the public, and members of the public who wanted to help with the planting were also welcome.

“Gosh, if people want to come, all they have to do is ring me up and we’ll find them some plants. We encourage any groups that want to be involved, absolutely,” Mrs Strang said.

There were nine more jobs for nature projects planned over the next year, involving more than 20,000 plants.