Covenant and industry funding helps protect coastal scarp wetland

Funding from Fonterra is supporting the protection and enhancement of one of the last remaining coastal bush scarp wetlands in the South Island.

Hapuku Scarp wetland hosts some of New Zealand's southernmost tawa trees

Hāpuku Scarp wetland hosts some of New Zealand's southernmost tawa trees

The Hailes' family farm just north of Kaikōura boasts uninterrupted views of the Seaward Kaikōura Ranges on one side, and on the other, vast ocean.

Cast your eyes downward and nestled at the bottom of their driveway is one of Canterbury's best examples of a coastal bush scarp wetland, and one of the last remaining in the South Island.

The Hailes’ farm is home to Hāpuku Scarp wetland, totaling more than 10 hectares. It is the largest remaining freshwater palustrine wetland (fed by rain, groundwater, or surface water) in the area and hosts some of New Zealand's southernmost tawa and black maire trees.

Neighbour Richard Howard shares the wetland and was also quick to recognise its significance - fencing his part of the wetland many years ago.

Both landowners have taken a proactive approach to protect the wetlands and overland flows into the wetland - fencing off several overland flow paths and critical source areas.

Funding front-foots weed control and stock exclusion

Tradescantia beetle

A biocontrol beetle targets Tradescantia for weed control

A significant contribution from the Fonterra Sustainable Catchment Fund has ensured the wetland is protected from stock. This has enabled the Hailes - specialising in dairy, deer, and tourism - to increase fence setbacks (the distance between the waterway and the fence) to the wetland, and upgrade fencing on the scarp to make it more resilient to floods and heavy rain.

Bernard Hailes says the funding from Fonterra has enabled them to completely fence the last long stretch of their wetland, helping to protect the natural taonga.

"The fencing means the natural beauty of the wetland will be fully protected and it will help it regenerate to its natural state so future generations can appreciate it.

"Without the Fonterra funding, this project could well have progressed at a much slower rate. So we are very grateful for their support," he said.

Previous biocontrol and weed control by the QEII Trust and Environment Canterbury targeting Tradescantia / wandering willie, banana passionfruit and old man's beard, has increased the wetland's capacity to host native flora and fauna.

Covenant protects 'ki uta ki tai' values

Hailes' wetland, combined with the steep native forest on the bank above the wetland (the scarp), forms part of a 25 hectare QEII covenant which provides a patch of high-quality wetland and forest habitat.

It also adds another ecological niche within the well-connected network of the Hāpuku River riparian forest and Seaward Kaikōura Ranges (which are part of Ka Whatu Tu o Rakihouia DOC reserve). All these factors contribute to achieving ki uta ki tai (from the mountains to the sea) values.

Covenants are one of the most effective ways to help protect the habitat of threatened animal and plant species, committing current and future owners of the covenanted land, to manage the land for conservation purposes.

"This wetland has been drained and planted with feed in the past, so, in 2010 we decided to create a QEII covenant to protect what we believe to be a very special parcel of land.

"We'd like to thank Kaikōura District Council's biodiversity staff for their vision and commitment to the project and for encouraging us to seek the covenant. The tireless efforts of the QEII National Trust also helped us get to where we are today.

"We are now seeing the benefits of this covenant as we watch the natural state of the wetland regenerate to what it once was," he said.

A culturally significant site

Makarini Rupene in Hapuku Scarp wetland

Makarini Rupene setting some hīnaki to catch tuna

The wetland would once have been a pass-over area for early Māori to stay. There would have been an abundance food, water, and materials for clothing.

Northern Pou Mātai Kō (cultural land management advisor) Makarini Rupene says that although covenants generally don't allow the gathering of kai, they provide wider benefits that align with mahinga kai values.

"Covenants provide patches of native habitat that can allow us to gather plant seeds specific to an area, useful in aiding native habitat across ecological regions.

"It's important that we protect these ecological values and remnants of bush that give us reminders of how our environment once was. Areas like Hāpuku Scarp wetland are essential in guiding restoration in the wider area," he said.

Next steps

The wetland significantly increased in size following the 2016 North Canterbury earthquakes and plans are being made to create a fish ladder at the road culvert at the receiving end of the wetland.

This work follows a survey of the wetland which found the presence of long-fin tuna in the wetland and a population of īnanga below the road culvert. This is to improve connectivity for īnanga to the wetland.

Environment Canterbury will continue to work with the landowners and other organisations to carry out weed control and planting.

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