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Steps to Enhance the Canterbury Native Biodiversity

Taking immediate steps to enhance the region’s native biodiversity

8 December 2010

By Tom Lambie (Environment Canterbury Commissioner).

There is no question that Canterbury is a region rich in native biodiversity. There is also no question that native biodiversity has suffered over many years as a result of human activity. Contributing to its decline has been the type and intensity of land use, vegetation clearance along rivers and streams, water and gravel abstraction and disturbance by stock.

Freshwater ecosystems provide an important habitat for many freshwater fish, insects, plants, birds – and also act as corridors and ‘stepping stones’ connecting different habitats and ecosystems.

Extensive public and stakeholder involvement over recent years in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy highlighted the declining health of the region’s freshwater ecosystems and the loss of native biodiversity as a key community concern. Now recognised as the blueprint for the sustainable management of water in our region, the water management strategy is being implemented and a biodiversity protection and restoration programme is pivotal to its success.

Public input into the development of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy provided clear direction: thriving biodiversity is widely perceived as essential to enjoyment of natural areas and experiences, including social, cultural and spiritual enjoyment.

Within Christchurch, areas such as the Travis Wetlands, Deans Bush and the Okeover Stream in Ilam are great examples of where biodiversity restoration has created environments of value to both residents and natural ecosystems. Native plantings over the last three years on the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (which is centre pivot irrigated), also demonstrate what can be achieved in a farm environment.

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Central to biodiversity protection and restoration is protecting the natural character and health of our braided rivers, high country lakes, freshwater and coastal wetlands,
river mouths and lowland streams, and places of cultural significance to tangāta whenua.

And so while the Canterbury Water Management Strategy has irrigated land area, water use efficiency and economic growth among its targets, ecosystem health and biodiversity are also targets, and equally important. Immediate, significant action is necessary to enhance biodiversity in some areas, and arrest the gradual overall decline in fresh water biodiversity in others. It is an integral part of the strategy.

A $10 million ‘Immediate Steps’ biodiversity protection and restoration programme is now underway. The money will be used over the next five years, with the zone committees being set up as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy playing an important role in determining projects that they, and the regional committee, adopt as part of the programme. Two thirds of the funding comes from general rates, and one third will be sourced from other sources, such as the landowners, community and conservation groups participating in the programme.

The targets of Immediate Steps reflect the fundamental principles of the water management strategy, including achievement of kaitiakitanga, where tangāta whenua are involved in active protection of, and responsibility for, natural and physical resources. Immediate Steps involves Ngāi Tahu rūnanga identifying sites and areas that hold existing mahinga kai (traditional food sources), wāhi tapu (sacred sites) and wāhi taonga (treasured places) values that require protection or enhancement.

Each zone committee is being advised by groupings of biodiversity specialists and rūnanga, who identify potential biodiversity projects. To be selected for funding, projects must meet certain criteria. Highest priority is afforded to the protection of existing areas of biodiversity value, such as a wetland that can be fenced to protect animal and plant life.

Riparian areas in need of restoration are next in terms of priority, followed by projects that aim to create pockets of biodiversity, such as planting an area of native vegetation where none currently exists. Implementation will be in partnership with community groups and rūnanga.

The Hurunui-Waiau zone committee, which was the first zone committee to be established, is well advanced in selecting its projects and they include enhancing native vegetation alongside streams, wetland enhancement, stock fencing and weed control around streams. Other zone committees are working towards agreeing their priorities and identifying projects.

Through the Immediate Steps biodiversity programme there is now significant funding available that will make a difference throughout the region. As the Canterbury Water Management Strategy progresses and the community and stakeholders become even more involved, we look forward to delivering on many projects that preserve, restore or enhance Canterbury’s unique ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity for future generations.

Tom Lambie is the Environment Canterbury Commissioner responsible for biodiversity.


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