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Conservation Order Protects 'Middle Earth' Waters

9 August 2004 - Christchurch

Conservation Order protects 'Middle Earth' waters

The new Water Conservation Order on the Rangitata River will protect the wide braided river that was the scene for Lord of the Rings filming and is the habitat for 18 species of native fish and rare birds.

"Forest and Bird is delighted with an Environment Court decision released on Friday that will see a Water Conservation Order placed on the Rangitata River," said Forest and Bird Regional Field Officer Tony Lockwood.

"Its success is a tribute to the commitment of Fish and Game, the cooperation of all those who care about the river and a law that allows places like the Rangitata to get the protection it deserves," he said.

"The Rangitata River is one of the South Island's finest braided rivers. Its wild and spectacular landscapes provided the location for the town of Edoras in the Lord of the Rings film," he said.

"The Water Conservation Order is extremely important to all the anglers, kayakers, and rafters that use the river as well as the unique native fish and birdlife that rely on it," he said.

"The order will prevent dams from being built on the river and sets minimum flows that will protect the conservation and recreation values. This is an example of how important the RMA is for New Zealand's environment."

"At least 18 species of native fish including eels, lamprey, flounder and galaxids live in the Rangitata River," he said.

"The Rangitata River is also home to a range of bird species including the rare riverbed specialist, the wrybill. Wrybill are notable for being the only birds in the world with sideways curved beaks that they use to search for food under stones. It is threatened with extinction," he said.

"Other birds of the Rangitata River include whio (blue duck), one of only two species of torrent duck in the world, black-fronted tern, black billed gulls, banded dotterels and South Island pied oyster catchers. Many of these birds rely on braided riverbeds during nesting.


Water is fast assuming the value of gold in Canterbury. Irrigation enables farmers to convert from wool to dairying and cropping, significantly increasing land values. This has led to almost unlimited demand for water with a number of dam and irrigation schemes being proposed in recent years.

As smaller braids dry up from excessive abstraction, areas of shallow water and wet ground diminish, reducing the available feeding habitat for wading birds like wrybill and oystercatcher. Weeds spread onto the riverbed providing cover for predators like cats, ferrets and stoats. The streams which create a protective moat around bird colonies dry up and expose the birds to increased predation.

The application for a Water Conservation Order was made by Fish and Game and supported at the Environment Court hearing by numerous other environmental and recreational interest groups including the Department of Conservation, Ngai Tahu, Forest and Bird and the NZ Recreational Canoeing Association.


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