Learning how to protect Canterbury’s braided river habitat
How best to protect braided river habitats and manage the threats to resident birds?
This was the focus for 22 people from around Canterbury and elsewhere who recently attended a braided river training course organised by BRaid Incorporated (Braided River Aid) and supported by the Environment Canterbury Biodiversity Fund.
The course was held at Glentui Meadows conference centre in late September and was led by John Dowding, arguably New Zealand’s’ foremost practical shorebird expert. Participants included representatives from regional and district councils, the Department of Conservation, Canterbury Water Zone Committee members and individuals who attended either because their jobs involved braided rivers or for their own personal interest.
BRaid chairman Nick Ledgard says Mr Dowding proved to be an excellent tutor. “There were audible exclamations of disbelief as John explained the parlous state of so many of our native birds,” Mr Ledgard said.
“If the threatened birds of the world were apportioned to countries relative to their land area, New Zealand should have just two, whereas we actually have 70 – and our braided rivers host around 10% of those.”
The dynamic, ever-changing nature of braided rivers gives them a unique character and makes them rare in the world context. New Zealand is one of the few countries with good examples and Canterbury is a particular hot spot because it contains nearly two thirds of our braided river habitat.
Of the seven bird species which are braided river “specialists”, five are classified as threatened, with the black stilt (kaki) and black-billed gull (tarāpunga) in most danger (“nationally critical”), while two are “at risk”.
“For this reason BRaid and Environment Canterbury through its Biodiversity Fund are working to protect braided river ecosystems,” Mr Ledgard said. “The training course helps to raise awareness and promote protection measures.”
The course consisted of background information relating to braided river bird species and a morning on the Ashley/Rakahuri River for bird identification.
“We were very lucky to get good sightings of six of the seven study species. The highlight was three wrybill, one of which was a female bird back on the river for her ninth breeding season,” Mr Ledgard said.
“There was a session on predators and their control and the survival strategy of most endemic New Zealand species. This is to live long lives with less dependence on regular breeding success.
“But this relies on good adult survival, which is why John considers predators to be the main reason for the widespread decline of native bird populations, including those on our braided rivers.”
Protection of braided river habitat and managing the threats to resident birds were also themes. “We discussed how we should prioritise the use of limited resources, the decreasing role of government agencies (such as DOC), the rising importance of territorial authorities and community groups, the need for greater public awareness, plus the influence of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy,” Mr Ledgard said.
The course was a great success, with participants keen to get out there and promote the actions needed to arrest the decline of our unique and threatened braided river bird populations. There is already a waiting list for a repeat course in 2013.
BRaid Incorporated (Braided River Aid) is an umbrella organisation set up in 2006 to protect braided river ecosystems in general and birds in particular. BRaid believes that education and information to community groups, territorial authorities and other agencies active in braided river management are vital to the protection and recognition of braided river ecosystems.
Environment Canterbury allocates $400,000 per year to a range of important biodiversity projects across the Canterbury region. This money is in addition to Canterbury Water Management Strategy Immediate Steps biodiversity funding and is targeted towards the highest priority actions aimed at protecting and restoring the region’s biodiversity.
These projects will protect and enhance a variety of ecosystem types, including wetlands, lowland streams and native vegetation remnants. Projects include native plantings, weed control, pest and stockproof fencing.
Environment Canterbury also allocates grants on behalf of the Honda TreeFund, including to school projects. Honda sponsors 10 native trees to be planted for every new car sold, with another three funded by local Honda dealers.
For more information about BRaid training courses, contact local secretary Val Clemens on email@example.com or (03) 308 5620