A Journey to Sustainability with Planet Spratt

22 February 2022

“I am 75, I have Parkinson’s and I am at the wrong end of the telescope of life”

Billy Connolly

I may not be facing my mortality in the same dramatic way as our beloved Billy but last November I became an old age pensioner. My Super Gold Card arrived in the mail and last month I went to the movies for $11, the same price as for a child (were they trying to tell me something?)

I am young at heart but with a dicky heart. I am sound of mind, but with tinnitus ringing in my head. I’m sturdy, but in a podgy kind of way. In my mind I am thirty, except pretty girls don’t notice me anymore and if I notice them, it just seems a bit creepy. All this said, I can’t imagine a life full of free rides on the Waiheke Island ferry and cut-price day time movies.

Recently I worked out that if I follow my family genetic traits, I will live to be eighty-seven just like mum, dad and grandfather Frederick. That’s around 12,000 days left to somehow make a difference.

With that in mind I’ve decided to dedicate my remaining useful days to making the planet a better, cleaner, safer place for current and future generations.

I face this prospect with a combination of excitement, fear and trepidation. After all I am just an old school IT guy, a businessman, an erstwhile politician and a family man. Little of this qualifies me to lecture others on carbon footprints, soil, air and water quality and preserving what’s left of our flora and fauna.

Noting all this I am going to do it anyway. We are all on a journey on this precious, fragile planet and my small steps towards understanding, as unimportant as they may be, might just inspire someone younger and smarter than me.

In the meantime, I am inviting you along for the ride as I write this blog, record a Vlog or two and take a few photos. Feel free to reach out with suggestions. No one is ever too old to learn, least of all me.

My own backyard

In 2010 my beloved and I moved out of our treelined Central Auckland Suburb and onto a lifestyle block that we hoped would bring us a simpler, more authentic life that brought us closer to God.

The vision was a classic hippy dream in many ways. Growing organic vegetables, and meditations at dawn.

Twelve years later we are still on “the farm” as my kids call it but facing the daily realities of living on and with the land. Every year there is a new pest. I’ve admitted defeat and now spray California Thistle because I am too old and the thistle too tenacious for me to do otherwise.

Most disturbing for me is the stream that lies on our lower boundary. It is a testament to wilful ignorance, ineffectiveness, and greed. Wilful ignorance because I can’t see it from my house, so it’s pitiful state is easy to ignore. Ineffectiveness because I have fought a haphazard and ultimately losing battle with noxious water weeds, leprous water rats and stagnant algae. My attempts at native plantings have proved inadequate with hundreds of dollars’ worth of new seedlings dying under the strain of hot dry summers or washed away in flash floods.

Generations of dairy farmers have poured effluent into it. The runoff from nitrogen fertilisers has left any still water burdened with suffocating weeds and toxic algae. On top of dairy pollution there has been a reckless waste of water resources. Commercial vegetable growers have sucked more “free” water than the water table allows. The stream then runs dry in the summer leaving eels desiccating in the sun. There are no longer any more frogs or fish. These have been poisoned by agricultural chemicals and, lacking the protection of rushes, reeds and flaxes, pillaged by predators.

Yet there has been progress. When I talk to the previous owners and old timers around here, they tell me of a time when the stream was used as an open cesspit flowing directly into the Parurehure Inlet and onto the Manukau Harbour.

The polluted stream

It smelt so bad and was so fly blown that the local Franklin Council, despite being dominated by businessmen farmers, were forced to do something about it. Their action was reluctant and cursory but this, when combined with pressure on the dairy industry as a whole, has meant we no longer see the unrestrained ecological vandalism of the 1960’s and 70’s.


What to do?

I have rung the Council and asked for guidance. They were enthusiastic but, in the end, ineffective. Promises of calls back remain unfulfilled. COVID restrictions have led to the cancellations of the planned pest control and native planting seminars. I hope once things open up more that I will see a bit more help and advice from them. In the meantime, I find myself on my own.

Lesson one of “going back to the land and saving the planet” is that it is just plain hard work, a burden on the budget and frankly a bit lonely.

So, I am restarting. I am buying a post hole borer, to reduce the pressure on my back when digging planting holes in concrete hard soil and clay. I’ve been next door to the neighbour and taken a variety of flax cuttings from his wonderful arboretum. In early Autumn I’ll buy a bunch more new plants and trees from the Farrell Family Nursery. Planting trees and plants in better locations will hopefully lead to greater success and less wastage.

Pest control will remain a priority. This year has seen many of the native trees in our area “masting” with huge quantities of seeds and pollen encouraging birds to mate and reproduce at an exciting rate. We have around 50 breeds coming and going on our property and the sound of new life is exciting but sadly can be a false dawn.

Rats and mice are also attracted by the seeds, stoats in turn are attracted by the prolific rodent prey. Until the seeds run out and the rats, mice and stoats all turn their attention to the nests full of eggs and young chicks. The parents are helpless in the face of this invasion and often fall victim to the stoats who kill them for fun. To make matters worse local cat “lovers” have released their unwanted kittens into the wild, unfixed and unfed. This season I have counted seven black and white wild cats cruising around the open paddocks in a group. For now their attention is drawn to the plague of rabbits (this year’s pest) but soon that supply of food will run out and they too will turn their attention to the birds.

Lesson Two of “going back to the land and saving the planet” is that we compete for resources with cunning and relentless predators. Sometimes these are animals.

Please feel free to contact me, Planet Spratt, at [email protected] if you have any feedback, ideas or suggestions

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