Restoring a gully is not only good for the environment; it also enhances the value of your property.

Gully restoration is increasing in the Waikato as more landowners realise the benefits of bringing back native vegetation and birdlife to their property.

But, as Tamahere man and gully enthusiast Leo Koppens points out, there is a further reason to undertake the work: to increase the value of a property.

As a real estate agent, Koppens says there is enormous added value for a property that has a restored gully with a path running through it.

"A gully full of blackberry is like a swimming pool full of frogs. Much better to develop it to its best potential."

Koppens has been restoring gullies for 35 years. His motivation is not commercial but environmental. He wants to leave a legacy for future generations.

He began with his own property at Tamahere, where his family have lived and worked since 1970, with a 1.5ha of gully, which was steep, unproductive land, grazed by sheep.

All the clearance was done by hand. "There was a lot of hawthorn and massive poplars lying down there. When we cleared it, the blackberry moved in."

The clearing and replanting was completed at weekends and after work. Today the kahikatea have reached a size where Koppens can just circle the trunks with his arms.

Native birds have shown their gratitude by taking up residence and tui are now breeding in the gully. Koppens is hoping wood pigeon (kereru), shining cuckoo (pipiwharauroa), bellbirds (korimako) and even kaka will follow. At night, the morepork are prolific. "We just need critical mass; more plantings to encourage them to come."

Koppens would love more people to develop gullies on their land. He says many property owners are daunted by the prospect of clearing and replanting a gully. "But it’s a simple thing to strip the land of all undesirables. In five years time you could be fully planted."

The Waikato is a rich source of gullies, the result of the Waikato River cutting a path 15,000 years ago through volcanic material and exposing springs along the riverbanks, which – in turn – created a network of streams draining into the river.

Hamilton alone has 750ha of gullies, 8 per cent of the city area and the Hamilton City Council has led the charge in encouraging people to develop gullies on their private land.

Gullies are important because they contain significant native vegetation and provide important green pathways for wildlife. The long-tailed native bat, one of only two remaining species of native terrestrial mammals, has been found in gully systems.

Many gullies, however, remain severely damaged by weeds, pollution and predators, putting native plants and wildlife at risk. For some landowners, the prospect of clearing them is daunting. Some employ landscapers to give advice and help with clearance, weed removal and planting.

Mark Sherson, working on Gully Restoration

Higher Ground Landscapes Ltd owner Mark Sherson has just begun a restoration of a property at Tamahere. He’s enthusiastic about the move to bring back native vegetation and has already seen the benefits on other rural properties.

"They are wonderful wilderness areas. When I was a kid, we would spend hours in the gully on our property. Making them accessible has a whole range of benefits."

Leo Koppens, who with a team of volunteers, is currently working on a gully project at the Tamahere Reserve, would like to see the gully networks in Tamahere and Matangi become mighty forests of kahikatea, totara and kauri, filled with the sings of tui and bellbirds.

An example is the 10ha Mangaone gully, which flows for 3km parallel to SH1 in Tamahere. The gully is thought to be one of the few places where an all-but-vanished ecosystem could be restored, including stands of ancient kahikatea swamp.

Currently, sediment that should be going out to sea is trapped by willows, drowning the natives.

Koppens says 50 private properties border the gully. “If each (owner) did their own little bit, it would be a wonderful result. The majority of these properties have around 5000sq m of gully, which is not a big area.” The impact on birdlife would also be substantial.

Koppens knows the pleasure people gain from gully experiences by the responses of his grandchildren to the gully on his and his partner Philippa Stevenson’s property. "They love the gully – and the taniwha that live there. It is a magical place."

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