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A chance to learn about braided rivers and their residents

7 August, 2013

A chance to learn about braided rivers and their residents

Environment Canterbury today announced an opportunity for members of the public to learn about Canterbury’s unique braided rivers and their inhabitants, particularly birdlife.

Braided River Aid (BRaid), a non-profit organisation which aims to preserve the indigenous features of our braided rivers, runs courses supported by Environment Canterbury.

The course, held at the Glentui Conference Centre near Oxford, has been offered successfully for the last two years. The next, led by professional ornithologist John Dowding, will happen from September 24-26.

BRaid chairman Nick Ledgard says Cantabrians are particularly lucky. “These rare remnants are often within close proximity to large towns, such as Rangiora,” he said. “It would be hard to find somewhere else in New Zealand where such a range of native land birds remain in their original habitat so close to major urban areas.”

The best example of a bird which has adapted to braided rivers is the wrybill. It is unique in the world as the only bird with its bill turned sideways so it can reach insects which live under stones in shallow water. With the exception of a few pairs in inland Otago, the wrybill only breeds in the braided riverbeds of Canterbury.

Other species such as the black-billed gull and the black-fronted terns are also braided river specialists. These are separate species from the more common red-billed gull and white-fronted terns seen on the coast.

Anyone interested in the September course should contact BRaid secretary Val Clemens (val.clemens@xtra.co.nz). Environment Canterbury support means that the all-up cost for three days is just $120. Biodiversity Team Leader Jo Abbott says this support is worthwhile because braided rivers and their inhabitants are an integral part of Canterbury’s landscape and extremely important.

“BRaid is doing a fantastic job providing opportunities to learn about these special Canterbury residents and how to look after them for generations to come,” Dr Abbott said.

As stated in the Department of Conservation’s recently-produced Conservation Management Strategy for Canterbury 2014-2024: “Braided rivers are a defining feature of the Canterbury landscape.” They are rare in the rest of the world, with New Zealand considered a hot-spot, and Canterbury the centre with 59% of the country’s braided river surface area. Their constantly changing environment has given rise to a unique ecosystem of plants, animals and invertebrates, and particularly birds. Away from the coast (and a few wetlands), these represent the only remnants of the original plains ecosystems which are still reasonably intact.

Previous course comments

“The course was very informative, useful and fun. An excellent educational experience for anyone concerned about New Zealand’s braided river breeding birds – they are something special.”
JoAnna Lessard, freshwater ecologist with Golder Associates, environmental consultants)

“I found the course to be not only most interesting and useful, but also well run and well-pitched for the audience. I have no hesitation recommending it.”
Anna Burrows, Biodiversity Officer, Greater Wellington Regional Council


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