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Rare birds making a comeback on the Ashley River

Rare and threatened birds making a comeback on the Ashley River

Fourteen years of protection, public education and study is paying off for rare and threatened birds on the Ashley-Rakahuri River, with numbers increasing for some core braided river species.

In his report to the recent annual meeting of the Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group, chairman Nick Ledgard said an analysis of annual bird surveys on the river since 2000 shows populations of rare and threatened species are either improving or holding at current levels.

“It is difficult to compare rivers, as each is so different” Ledgard said. “But I don’t know of any other braided river in the country that can report such improvements.”

The Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group was formed in 1999 to assist with management of the lower reaches of the Ashley River. The core study area consists of an 18km stretch of riverbed, extending from the confluence of the Okuku River down to the State Highway One road bridge. The Group aims to protect the birds and their riverbed habitat mainly through public education to prevent disturbance, and trapping of introduced predators. The breeding birds on the river are monitored regularly during the season (September-January), with an annual bird population survey carried out in November.

Ledgard said the 14-year analysis of the annual survey results showed numbers of black-fronted tern (nationally endangered), banded dotterel (nationally vulnerable) and pied stilt (nationally declining) were increasing significantly on the Ashley-Rakahuri River. The trend for other key species, wrybill (nationally vulnerable), black-billed gull (nationally critical) and South Island Pied Oystercatcher (nationally declining) was also positive, although this was not statistically significant.

“The analysis of the population and breeding data indicates that management actions by the Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group have contributed to these increasing bird populations. This is a great achievement and justifies continued management and protection of the birds breeding in the riverbed. Sadly, in other braided rivers where this intensive protection and management is not occurring, numbers of these unique and precious New Zealand birds are continuing to decline.”

Ledgard said that the success of the group’s efforts did not mean that people could “sit back and congratulate themselves on their achievement.” He said the real challenge was to continue the group‘s activities at the required level.

“Predator trapping, for example, remains our most labour intensive and time consuming activity. We are always after more help in this area. And, as we enter the 2014/15 breeding season, we must continue our public awareness efforts to help people understand that disturbing these birds on the riverbed can lead to breeding failure and the very real risk that all our efforts could be negated by just a small decline in breeding success.”


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