Protecting braided river birds pays off in North Canterbury

The community got a first-hand look at how black-fronted terns and black-billed gulls are being protected in North Canterbury.

Around 40 people attended the braided river birds field day in Culverden in late November, which was organised by the Hurunui Biodiversity Trust and supported by us.

It started with presentations at the Culverden Rugby Club by Lincoln University Professor Ken Hughey and senior biodiversity officer Zipporah Ploeg before the group headed to the Waiau Uwha River to look at Sharkstooth Island.

Enhancements made at Sharkstooth Island

Sharkstooth Island was enhanced in a bid to better protect the birds and keep predators away from nesting sites of black-fronted terns and black-billed gulls.

Bird watching in action

Bird watching in action

Enhancements included raising the island, as well as weed and pest control with trapping lines installed on the land opposite the island - aiming to stop pests from swimming over to the islands.

Cameras were also installed to provide a clear picture of the biggest threats to the bird colonies and to help with monitoring.

The field trip meant the community was able to view the birds in their natural habitat from a safe distance - allowing the birds space to nest.

It also provided an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the birds, the project, and its future.

Zipporah, who has led the project over the past few years, said the community day proved extremely valuable.

"Everyone was super interested in the project and excited for its potential in the future," she said.

"While we don't know exactly what that will look like at the moment, with its funding nearing completion, we are really proud of the mahi we've been able to achieve over the past six years," she added.

NIWA Island - a focus point

Similar work has been carried out at NIWA Island in the Hurunui River. Monitoring shows that efforts at both NIWA and Sharkstooth Islands have helped boost the braided river bird population, however, major weather events impacted results at times. Data from shows more than 300 hedgehogs, mustelids, rats, possums and other pests have been caught at NIWA Island and close to 40 at Sharkstooth since the projects began.

Both sites had been funded through the Immediate Steps Programme, endorsed by the now-disestablished Hurunui Waiau Uwha Water Zone Committee, with around $40,000 of funding being allocated to it each year since 2017.

The event concluded with a barbeque which was held at local farmer John Faulkner's property.

About the project

The Hurunui and Waiau Uwha Braided River Bird Project began in 2017 and aims to protect and enhance the habitat for black-fronted terns and black-billed gulls on the Hurunui and Waiau Uwha Rivers.

The focus has been on protecting and monitoring success rates of nests for these species, to see which methods of protection are working. The Department of Conservation has contributed a significant amount of resources to support this project, through monitoring and weed control.