Hakatere/Ashburton River Mouth Management Strategy

A community meeting was held at Hakatere Huts last month to generate feedback on a discussion document to develop an Hakatere/Ashburton River Mouth Management Strategy.

The document was drafted following background research into the values and uses in the area over the last eight months (including a user survey over last summer and previous community meeting in February).

The strategy project is being led by Environment Canterbury to develop co-ordinated recommendations for management and enhancement of ecological and cultural values and recreational access.

Seasonal abundance of birds at Ashburton River 

Consultant Ines Stäger presented results of a recent report from ornithologist Andrew Crossland who has been visiting the area since the early 1990s and regularly over the last three years to undertake monthly bird counts to facilitate an understanding of the seasonal abundance of birds at the site and to inform ongoing wildlife management initiatives.

34 different bird species were counted over the 2018-19 study period, with this highest number counted at almost 10,000 on 14th September 2018. Crosslands report states ‘Within the context of biodiversity and nature conservation in the Ashburton District, the river mouth has the highest avian species richness of any site within the district (ahead of the Rangitata and Hinds river mouths)’.

Habitat for fish species 

Environment Canterbury Freshwater Ecologist Graeme Clarke had also been collecting information about the values present in the spring-fed stream that enters the Ashburton River at Ashton Beach which he presented to the meeting.

11 different fish species have been found in the stream. The variety of size of tuna/eels caught here shows that they have been present in the waterway for some time. Pregnant inanga also highlighted the likelihood this area is used as a spawning ground by this species.

‘The lower reaches of the stream have a cobbly bottom, a variety of instream and riparian vegetation providing for good habitat’ said Graeme Clarke. ‘There are opportunities for improvement in the upper reaches by removing willows and creating a habitat more like that downstream extending the area of good quality habitat’.

Vehicle access; a hot topic at the meeting 

People who currently access the river mouth using vehicles for fishing or whitebaiting voiced their desire for this access to remain while concerns were raised about vehicles disturbing birds, noise, intrusiveness, safety and speeds of vehicles.

Those present at the meeting were asked for ideas about possible ways to manage vehicles to keep access to one track and not disturb the valuable bird nesting and feeding habitat.

‘This is a challenging issue which has been raised many times over the years as managing access in such a dynamic environment isn’t straight forward. There are many competing needs and we’re looking for the best possible way forward that protects the values that exist in this area,” said Janine Holland, Environment Canterbury Ashburton Zone Lead.

Collaboration between organisations 

As well as feedback from the community meeting the discussion document has also been discussed with Runanga, Environment Canterbury, Ashburton District Council, Department of Conservation, LINZ and Fish & Game for their feedback. Final recommendations are now being compiled and will be presented to Environment Canterbury in the next month.

It is hoped to begin implementation of actions following this, but this will, of course, depend on what the recommended priorities are.