Invermay Environmental Focus Farm

Invermay Environmental Focus Farm

The Invermay deer unit was developed in an era when little attention was given to environmental management; indeed, little was actually known at the time on what impacts deer could have on soil and water. While, in retrospect, we can say we could have designed the layout of the unit better to be sensitive to the environment, we just didn’t know what we know now.

During the winter of 2014 concerns were expressed by science and farm staff that the Invermay deer unit may not be able to comply with emerging regional council regulations around water quality exiting the farm. Rather than second guess the issues, an invitation was extended to the Otago Regional Council (ORC) to do a site visit and provide their perspective and guidance on existing and emerging issues.

That visit was an eye-opener for us. We had some serious issues around stream water quality within and immediately outside the deer unit.

Wallow and stream damage prior to fencing

Post grazing of swede crop showing soil compaction and damage to ephemeral waterway.

New wallow created in an ephemeral waterway.

Essentially the deer had enjoyed fairly unfettered access to key waterway catchments and wetlands. Numerous wallows created over many years were contributing to heavy sedimentation of streams. While it is obvious to us now that the streams were carrying very high sediment loads, it often takes an outsiders perspective to shake us awake!

It is important to note that the ORC staff attending the site visit were not waving a big stick at us. They were extremely constructive in their approach and were very keen to help us develop solutions to tidy up the waterways. They even offered to arrange a visit by their staff to check the biodiversity of the streams…which was accepted and duly undertaken. Electric fishing and invertebrate fauna surveys showed what we were starting to suspect….the waterways were not healthy. In two major areas of the principle stream running through the unit, while several koura (freshwater crayfish) were found, no fish (eels, galaxids) were present. The invertebrate fauna was of low diversity and contained species indicative of heavily degraded water.

Otago Regional Council staff member electric fishing at Monitoring Site 2.

A few Koura survivalists; the only species found in streams in 2014.

It was clear that we needed to undertake some remedial action. It was a big issue resulting from years of deer grazing…we knew that we could not fix it all over-night. We decided on a 5-year plan that would ensure that the Invermay farm would be totally compliant with Rule 6a of the Otago Regional Council Plan by 2020. So we set about developing a plan……….

The idea of a Focus Farm

At this point the idea of the Invermay Environmental Focus Farm (IEFF) emerged. Recognising that many deer farms are probably in a similar situation with respect to achieving regional council compliance, why not show everyone what we are doing on Invermay and taking deer farmers on our journey. This is not something that was considered lightly, as it meant opening up, warts and all, about our own past poor environmental management.

And so, the IEFF was formed with the following aims:

  • Highlight awareness of emerging industry responsibilities to farm deer in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner
  • To take deer farmers on our journey to compliance, demonstrating a range of cost-effective options to mitigate environmental damage
  • To link our compliance requirements with specific science to demonstrate the effectiveness (or otherwise) of mitigation practices
  • To be a demonstration site for new mitigation options
  • A stakeholder group was established to guide the IEFF and to help plan and set agendas for field days. This group included 3 local farmers, the Invermay farm manager, a representative from Otago Regional Council, the NZDFA Producer Manager and a member of Landcare Trust.

First Environment Focus field day on Invermay in 2015.

Discussing the Invermay silage pad at the first Environment Focus field day.

The Invermay Farm Environment Plan

The first step of our journey towards compliance was to develop the farm environment plan, which is essential a 5-year roadmap to full compliance.

In some respects this was made easier for us because of all the existing knowledge on soil types and geophysical maps of the research farm. In other respects, the multitude of small paddocks needed for the research unit complicated matters. There were also issues of historical landscaping of hill areas on the farm that added complexity (e.g. some gully headwaters had been infilled with soil in the 1940s and are now subject to the formation of small sinkholes and runnels).

By December 2014 we had completed a Land & Environment Plan (LEP) based on the Beef & Lamb LEP 3 template. For most farms in New Zealand a LEP 2 plan will suffice but given the complexity of the Invermay farm we decided to run with the ‘Rolls Royce’ version.

Land and Environment Plan 3 for Invermay Research Farm PDF

{link to ‘How to develop a LEP 2 plan’}

How did we start?

Simple: We took a map of the deer unit and walked through every paddock, noting areas of damage (e.g. leaking wallow sites, fence-line erosion, heavily eroded camp sites and damaged waterways). We assessed on-going risk for each paddock, ranked it according to urgency for mitigation and set up a 5-year plan of attack.

Our greatest urgency was to tackle the heavy sedimentation of the creeks leaving the farm…so the highest priority jobs (i.e. Year 1) were to…

  • Identify those paddocks that could not be effectively protected from deer (predominantly very swampy paddocks) and remove them from all future deer grazing (some sheep grazing available during dry periods)…about 5% of existing deer farm area.
  • Ensuring that all future deer unit extensions were inclusive of ‘safe’ areas of pasture
  • Fence off some key wallow sites that were draining directly into waterways
  • Extend some existing fences to exclude stock from all permanently flowing streams
  • Some stream-bank remediation work as required for stabilisation and future erosion protection
  • Place flow moderators (strategically placed rock baffles) in some ephemeral waterways (gullys that have flowing water only during rain events)
  • Identify or create sites for ‘safe’ wallows (non-draining)
  • Better integration of sheep onto the deer unit (sheep are less prone to foul waterways)

…and so we started our journey.