When you think about the newly opened Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s just 15 kilometres of a four-lane highway. However, thanks to the efforts of landscapers Natural Habitats, it is also home to more than 1.3 million native plants.
The 1.3 million seeds were collected by hand from the local area and raised in a nursery before being replanted along the Expressway and at sites like Lake Kimhia, an adjoining new wetland and around Te Iringa Lagoon.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure seeds are eco-sourced, meaning that the seeds we planted were originally sourced from this region and we can, therefore, support the endemic plant population,” says Natural Habitats Regional manager, Richard Lumsden.
“Work of this scale requires thousands of person-hours and we’ve been glad to support the local community with employment throughout the project.”
For the past three years, Natural Habitats has planted, mulched, sprayed and maintained the plantings, nurturing them in preparation for the recent opening.
“We’re proud to have played a significant role in what is a defining project for this region,” says Lumsden.
“It’s great to see that the natural environment has been considered alongside providing better driving conditions.”
Providing a sustainable ecological solution was at the heart of this major project led by Fulton Hogan-HEB for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, which aims to enhance the experience of the journey and the sustainability of the local environment.
Transport Agency Waikato Portfolio manager Darryl Coalter says the plantings are a key part of the environmental management for the significant project.
“Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, landscaping and planting help to mitigate both visual and noise impacts of the new road.”
Natural Habitats has worked hard to enhance the area’s biodiversity. In addition to the planting work, it has tended to several small lakes and wetlands that are significant to the area and also to local Maori interest.
Natural Habitats founder Graham Cleary says; “It’s always an honour to work alongside project partners like the Transport Agency and Fulton Hogan-HEB, particularly when the topic of sustainability and environmental preservation is at the forefront of their priorities.”
The Huntly section might now be open, but the work is not done for Natural Habitats.
“Now that the plants are in, we’ve got another five years of ensuring they will continue to thrive at the standard we expect.
“Our goal is to manage these plants toward being self-sustaining and ensuring this area remains an asset in the community for future generations.”