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Protection and planting improves wildlife hotspot

Some of the region’s rarest visitors are starting to enjoy new protections as they nest in the Ashburton district.

The Hakatere/Ashburton Rivermouth project aims to protect the area in and around the hāpua (coastal lagoon) formed where the river meets the sea.

Now recreation and conservation groups are working together to create a space where people can enjoy the river and the sea, while also giving space to nature.

Off-roaders and conservationists join forces at Ashton Beach

On Sunday 1 November, volunteers from Forest & Bird, Kanuka Trust and the Mid-Canterbury 4WD Club planted karakeke (native flax), toetoe and tī kōuka (cabbage trees) to fill in an area alongside a newly created walkway. That followed a previous planting day in October.

Community engagement coordinator Rhys Taylor oversaw the planting, which involved reclaiming rutted four-wheel drive tracks, made in previous informal excursions, as ready-to-use sites for hardy New Zealand native plants.

Taylor said that more than 200 plants went in on each day. The species were selected for likely tolerance of harsh coastal conditions.

Taylor added that the group also threw “seed bombs” – made from flax seeds enclosed in mud – into the adjacent gorse, as a second introduction method.

“Seedlings can germinate successfully in that shaded and wind-sheltered environment, with benefit from the nitrogen fixed by the gorse.”
Volunteers hurtle "seed bombs" into the gorse.

Fences and signage promote conservation

The plantings were made possible by recently installed fencing (pictured) that completes a protected area bordering the south bank of the river and the hāpua.

A new walkway passes through the site, taking visitors on a loop through a gorse area between the hāpua and river on the Ashton Beach side.

One of two plank bridges crossing a freshwater stream.

The track includes two simple plank bridges crossing a freshwater stream that runs parallel to the river, which are designed to be easily repositioned after small floods.

Fishers and 4WDers find new routes

Mid-Canterbury 4WD Club spokesperson Steve Adam said alternative routes around the fenced-off area are available for vehicles, helping protect the birds at this time of year when riverbeds are considered “off limits” for their club, to give nesting sites a fair go.

The alternative route leads to a second parking space that has been created at the end of the walkway, offering fishers a shorter walk to the riverbed.

New signage has been installed at both parking areas, identifying the diversity of bird and fish life that can be found at the site, including 24 species that visitors can look out for.

Assistance with the signs came from Braided River Aid group.

A biodiversity hotspot

Biodiversity officer Donna Field said she hopes that in the long term a viewing platform for birdwatching can be added to the site.

“We’re really lucky to have such an abundance of birds come to nest here, especially nationally vulnerable birds like the pohowera/banded dotterel (pictured) and tarāpuka/black-billed gull. It’s especially great to see the four-wheel drive club take pride in the area too.”

Trapping

With an area now reserved for native birds, predator control is becoming more important.

Following the second planting, Forest & Bird members set out traps nearby to help control threats to the nesting birds from egg and chick-eating land animals such as weasels, stoats and hedgehogs.

They will continue to monitor these traps to promote a successful nesting season at the river mouth.

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Environment Canterbury
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