Soil erosion benefits from planting poplar poles

Around eight-thousand poplar and willow poles will be delivered to over 100 North Canterbury farms this year, thanks to our Soil Conservation and Revegetation (SCAR) Programme.

The four-year programme, which is co-funded by us and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), aims to reduce erosion and sediment loss, and stabilise damaged land in North Canterbury’s hill-country.

Farmers taking part in the programme are able to decrease the amount of sediment washed into waterways, which will deliver long-term environmental benefits such as better water quality by:

  • planting poplar and willow poles
  • retiring erosion prone land
  • identifying erosion-prone land with Land Use Capability maps

Programme helps connect farmers

The programme offers discounted poplar and willow poles from our Baynons nursery; funding towards native plants and fencing to keep stock out of eroding areas; and Land Use Capability maps, which assess the risks to land and help identify erosion prone areas,” land management and biodiversity advisor Andrew Turnbull said.

The programme helps staff and landowners collate knowledge to have wider discussions on farm management and how improvements might be made.

“The programme is in its third year and demand for poplar and willow poles has been increasing steadily as well as support for the programme to continue from farmers and the community,” Andrew said.

“A major success of the programme is being able to connect farmers with different expertise within Environment Canterbury - enabling them to seek a wide range of advice and in some cases other funding opportunities to do work on farm or in a catchment that benefits the environment and the wider community,” he added.

Hurunui planting workshop

The fifth pole planting workshop for the programme was held in July on the Hoban’s Family Farm (Glenafric) in Hurunui. The purpose was to show farmers how to plant poplar and willow poles.

Our staff showed farmers how and where to plant the three-metre poles to increase success of reducing erosion on a steep sloped paddock.

Andrew led the session alongside land management and biodiversity advisor Sam Thompson.

Andrew said the workshop is helpful to both those who haven’t planted a poplar pole before and those wanting to upskill to improve the survival rate of their poles.

“There are a lot of benefits in planting poplar and willows poles on erosion prone hill country. The main one is simply, that their root systems grow quickly, hold the soil on the hill and prevent mass movement from occurring during large scale weather events.

The poles come with a 1.7-metre sleeve, this allows stock to graze the area after being restricted for only one to two years, allowing land to continue being productive within their farm system,” he said.

Pole planting tips

More than 3,000 poles have been delivered to farms so far this season. Farmers are advised to leave 12 to 15-metres between soil conservation poles when planting, as when the trees reach maturity the roots will interlock stabilising the area in between the trees without compromising pasture growth.

“It is important if you are starting out pole planting to choose the area carefully make sure to pick an area that has some active erosion that you want to stop as well as areas that tend to hold moisture into the summer, for example low down on southerly facing slopes,” Andrew said.

“If you don’t have this option, choose a location where rainwater concentrates when running off hills when you get 20 to 40-millimitres of rain. This will improve the overall survival rate of the poles. Having a high survival rate will keep your enthusiasm up to plant again the following season,” he added.

Next steps

Environment Canterbury has applied to the Ministry of Primary Industries to extend the programme for another four years, after it finishes mid-2023.

Sam is really hoping their mahi can be continued.

“My hope is for this programme to become a staple for the organisation. It’s been a great success so far, so let’s hope we can continue with it,” he said.

For more information

To find out about funding for erosion control, email, or go to the SCAR webpage.