DOC decision on Ashton Beach disappoints Council

Published: 23 September 2022

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The Council has expressed disappointment at a Department of Conservation decision that will scuttle plans to provide a designated recreational motorbike park at Ashton Beach - but it still hopes to work with parties to find a way to improve the area.

Ashton Beach has traditionally been an informal place to motorbike ride, but the area is also shared with southern grass skink, which are in decline around New Zealand despite all native lizards and their habitat being protected under the Wildlife Act.

The Council had been working with the Ashburton Motorcycle Club to move casual motorbiking from the beach to a more formal track on nearby Council-owned farmland, with the hope that it would improve health and safety for riders as well as providing more ecological protections to the local skink populations and native birds in the area.

Chief Executive Hamish Riach said the proposed area for the new track was farm land that could be cultivated by law because it was zone Rural B.

“We were proposing to move recreational motorcyclists from an informal riding area to the farm land nearby, and also covenant alternative nearby areas for permanent protection for wildlife and native species.”

Skinks are present across the entire area and Council believes that with riding occurring in a more concentrated area and habitat enhancements in the covenanted areas, there would be an overall benefit to local skink numbers.

Council had to apply for authorisation under the Wildlife Act, as the formation and use of the motorbike park would likely result in some skink fatalities – this was declined by DOC.

Councillors described the outcome as a lose-lose situation, with motorbiking still likely to occur informally in the area and no additional protections provided for skink.

Councillors voted to write to the Minister of Conservation and other politicians expressing concern that the decision-making process appeared to be flawed; external experts were also surprised by the decision and little weight given to the proposed permanent protection of the skink.

The Council says it’s keen to work with DOC, ECan and local iwi to find a way forward.

“We were surprised and a little dismayed by the decision, but we need to look forward and try to get all the interested parties around the table so we can find a solution that preserves the skinks’ habitat and improves safety for recreational users of the area,” Mr Riach said.

Ashton Beach came on Council’s radar in 2019 when officers became aware of a health and safety issue on an unfenced portion of Council’s Ocean Farm at the beach. A steep area of land was being used by motorbike and 4WD enthusiasts.

Those areas have since been fenced off, and a potential new alternative area for riding was identified through community consultation in February 2020. A skink survey in May 2020 confirmed the presence of southern grass skink (Oligosoma aff. polychroma) in the proposed motorbike park area.

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