Biodiversity projects

When Europeans settled New Zealand, they regarded braided rivers as ‘normal’ rivers surrounded by useless swamps and undeveloped land. Water was seen as an endless resource that could be used to generate power and to eradicate biodiversity in favour of agriculture. In spite of this, the braided rivers frequently did what they had done for millions of years: filled their braidplains. with water, flushing out any pollutants, and delivering enough gravel to extend the coast seaward. Viewing them as hazard, the once wild rivers were treated as an enemy to be tamed. Wetlands that had once acted as natural kidneys and provided endless kai were drained and concreted over to become towns and cities like Christchurch, Woodend, Rangiora, and Kaiapoi. Everywhere else, thousands and thousands of hectares of braidplains were lost to agriculture, primarily to support the dairy industry which, perversely, intensively polluted the rivers. To protect towns and farms from an enemy of our own making, we then engineered stopbanks, levees, and bunds, and planted invasive trees like willows that sucked up water like camels. Once life-giving pure clean water now costs millions of tax and ratepayer dollars to make it ‘drinkable’—if you ignore international standards on what’s regarded as drinkable in terms of nitrates. The extraordinary biodiversity of the braidplains that once provided these essential life-supporting ecosystem services hand that we now desperately need to mitigate climate change, have been methodically destroyed.

This story is not colonial history. It’s still happening. And recent (2018) case law has further depleted the legal definition of a braided river; scroll down to see the redefined Ahuri River.

Neverthless, people, councils, and community groups are fighting back, determined to save and restore the biodiversity of these incredibly rich and globally rare ecosystems.

Key actions

To see specific biodiversity projects on rivers, please click on each of the rivers. You can also check the ten Canterbury river and water management zones (this website) and the online mapping tool, Canterbury maps. Several agencies and groups have or are currently working towards submission to amend the legal definition of a braided river under the Resource Management Act.

Weed encroachment – control work

Coordination between Environment Canterbury (ECan), Department of Conservation (DOC), LINZ, landcare groups, landowners, and river care groups such as the Ashley Rakahuri Rivecare Group to develop and implement strategic, landscape scale operation to control and remove invasive weeds.

Predators – control work

Similarly, multiple large scale collaborative projects between ECan, DOC, Universities, LINZ/Boffa-Miskell, and rivercare groups, and in conjunction with Predator Free New Zealand. Many small scale projects not mapped here are being undertaken as part of the overall ‘PredatorFree 2050’ initiative. 

Habitat enhancement and investigations

Multi-agency field research along rivers such as the Lower Waitaki and Clarence rivers have been testing methods to enhance habitats, primarily islands, by removing weeds and increasing the distance that predators must swim to reach them.

Our on-the-ground work is closely aligned with key stakeholders, particularly ECan, DOC, LINZ, zone
Our on-the-ground work is closely aligned with key stakeholders, particularly ECan, DOC, LINZ, zone & regional committees, river and landcare groups, and landowners.

Policies to protect & restore

Canterbury Water Management Strategy goals and targets

  • Braided Rivers
  • Increasing bird habitat
  • Active management for indigenous plants and wildlife habitats
  • Natural character
  • Ecosystem health/ biodiversity improving

Canterbury Biodiversity Strategy goals

  • Protect and restore habitats and ecosystems
  • Enhance public awareness and understanding
  • Improve knowledge and information

Regional strategic priorities

  • Accelerate regeneration of the natural environment

 

Current (2021) projects across Canterbury Region funded by IMS and Regional Initiatives funding. Almost all projects are co-funded.
Current (2021) projects across Canterbury Region funded by IMS and Regional Initiatives funding. Almost all projects are co-funded.

The Aururi River braidplain

Further information & references