Four wheel drive enthusiasts are continuing to threaten the nests of endangered birds on Canterbury's Ashley River.
One of offending 4WD vehicle which endangered rare wrybrills and dotterels on the Ashley River Photo: Supplied / Grant Davey
The Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group had captured footage of two four-wheel drives coming within two metres of nesting wrybills and banded dotterels.
With only 5500 wrybills left, volunteer Grant Davey, said the culprits were threatening the very survival of this unique species.
"Ecan (Canterbury Regional Council) have signs up all along the river, saying that four wheel drives are not allowed out there from the first of September to the end of January. So it's actually fairly hard to avoid those signs."
Davey said the footage, including the number plate details, had been sent to the Department of Conservation, and he hoped the drivers were reminded of the potential consequences of their actions.
Those found to have killed protected wildlife can be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned for up to two years.
Below I've cut and pasted a very thorough review of the activities and achievements for the ARRG from Nick Ledgard in his outgoing Chairman's report. Thank you Nick for your dedication and accurate assessment of the realities of what your fantastic group of volunteers have achieved since the ARRG was formed.
ARRG Chair report, 2021
Welcome everyone to this AGM. The Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group was formed in 1999, and became an Incorporated Society in 2005. My report is usually an adaptation of the summary from our annual report for the last season – in this case for 2020-21. That is contained in this document – written by myself and Grant Davey. But this year, I am going to depart from that format, as this will be my last report as Chair of this Group – after 18 years in that position.
Have we succeeded? Looking back over that time, one has to ponder over what has been achieved, and that of course has to be measured against the Group’s objective. Our mission statement is ‘To protect birds and their habitat in the A-R river, while recognising essential river control works and sympathetic recreational uses’. Therefore our primary objective is to restore, or at least maintain, the indigenous bird species which breed on the river – the wrybill, black-fronted tern, black-billed gull, banded dotterel, pied stilt and S. Is pied oystercatcher – and hopefully in the future, the black stilt. In this respect, if I was an outside interviewer, my first question would be ‘Well, after over 20 years, (with you heading the Group for 18 of those), have you succeeded?’
Monitoring. One cannot answer that question without good monitoring, and we have done a reasonable job on that score. We use two measures. One is annual population or number counts via our annual survey in mid-November, and the other is breeding success, measured by annual productivity – which is number of fledged chicks per nesting pair of birds. The ways in which we have measured these are far from perfect, but as we have done population surveys since 2001 and productivity monitoring since 2005, we can put some certainty on trends.
Population or number counts. This is what the data show us. Looks great up to 2015, but the decline since then is not attractive. The high figure in 2019 is an anomaly caused almost certainly by the Waimakariri river being in constant flood and our river acting as a refuge. We hoped it was also a sign of bird numbers returning to former levels, but the count for the following year (2020) indicates that not to be the case. So, all this graph really tells us is that we are at least maintaining bird numbers during this century. Needless to say, we sincerely hope that this year’s survey (November 20) sees a good increase in counts. But, we are only 6 weeks away from that date, and so far this season, numbers do not look encouraging. This could well be due to the record floods of late May / mid-June having shaken up the core aquatic insect food supply, which is taking more time than usual to get up to speed. We will soon see.
Breeding success – productivity and chicks fledging. This is much harder to estimate, as chicks are hard to follow through to fledging. However, we have attempted to do so with wrybill, BFT and BBG since 2004. The results are as follows. Once again, they don’t appear to show a significant improvement over time – possibly because survival between egg hatching and chick fledging has not been overly threatened. However, if one compares the number of chicks fledged in the first 6 years of monitoring (2004-2009) and the last 6 (2015-2020), one finds that wrybill have increased from 3.5 to 5.9, and BBG from 75 to 394, whilst BFT have not changed much – from 16 down to 14. So, it appears that we are enabling more wrybill and gull chicks to get into the air, but not tern chicks. Probably the best take-home message of all about this is the importance of long-term monitoring – we may be the only volunteer group with such impressive records.
So, I look back over the years, and my term as chair, and reflect on not as good an outcome as I would have hoped. But I am aware of population and breeding monitoring on other braided rivers, and in comparison to those, our results generally look a lot more positive, Plus, I am an optimist, and I am sure the future will show an improvement, and that our efforts to date to have been vital in maintaining a base to attain that.
Weeds. In the first graph I held up, apart from the bird numbers, we follow the rise and fall of bare gravel area – thanks to the mapping skills of Grant. When I first saw this and the close correlation between bird numbers and gravel area, I immediately went back to Grant and asked him to check his figures. After 40 years in research, I had never seen such a close correlation between an effect and a likely cause. But it is a real one, which underlines the importance of weeds in retaining bird numbers on braided rivers. Hence, I see the control of weeds as our greatest challenge in the future if we are to attain our mission statement. The record floods of May/June have swept the riverbed as clear as I have ever seen it. But by Christmas there will be a green tinge to most of it, and if nothing is done (coupled with the likely absence of another record flood), we will be back to the autumn 2017 weed infested situation within a few years. Needless to say, we are thinking hard how to make use of the unique weed control opportunity which the floods have presented us. And we cannot just sit around and discuss it - any cost-effective solution will have to be applied within a year, while the weeds are small, starting after February once the birds have finished their breeding season.
Predator control. This is by far the biggest single activity undertaken by the Group. At present we have 236 traps alongside the river, maintained by 18 volunteer trappers, while around the estuary we have another 129 traps maintained by 8 trappers. This gives a grand total of 365 traps and 26 trappers checking them every few weeks – a very impressive effort. Once again we have to ask - has this been successful? According to our records, we have caught 3353 predators since 2004, and without doubt have saved 100s of birds from gruesome ends. If one looks at trap-catch over time (numbers caught per 100 trap-nights), we averaged 1.3 predators trapped annually for our first 6 years (2004-2009), whereas for the last 6 years (2015-2020) the figure is around 0.5. This is comforting, but once again the long-term picture appears to be one of maintenance of what we would like to say are ‘low’ numbers, rather than one of a steady decline towards elimination. Hopefully this will change for the better soon, as last week we met with a contractor who is going to write a plan for almost doubling our trap numbers alongside the river (paid for by ECan).
River management. As most of you will know, we have had cause to contest how the river has been managed in the past – with too much emphasis on flood control at the expense of environmental values. A braided river must always have room to move. Plus we have also not been happy with the some of the results arising from commercial gravel extraction. Grant has led that discussion with ECan, and I am confident that we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Awareness / education. I consider that we have been very successful in improving awareness at the public, education and institutional decision-making level. Most people are now aware of the birds on the river and how we are assisting their improved well-being and long-term survival. This is due to multiple awareness activities - our website and Facebook postings, displays, media and magazine articles, interviews, talks and Ppt presentations to councils, schools and community / interest groups. In this annual report we list 45 promotional activities undertaken in the last year.
So, I look back over the last 20 years with a degree of satisfaction relative to achieving our mission, plus many happy memories of the process followed to achieve that.
Thanks. Last but never least, I conclude with thanks to all members of the Group for the work they have put in over my time. There are far too many to name individually. But there are some I must mention: Joan Miles for her work as Secretary, Sue Mardon for her excellent work as Treasurer; and in the trapping arena, Peter Whitehead and Geoff Swailes and the impressive volunteer trapping team. Then there is Grant Davey with his mapping and record-keeping skills. Any volunteer group can only utilise the skills that are present within their membership, and Grant has significantly enabled us to look far more professional than we actually are. When I started in the early years of this century, the words ‘social media’ were little used, but they are absolutely vital in holding one’s own today. So thanks to Sonny Whitelaw and Steve Attwood for looking after our website and Facebook outlets. Then there is our one-and-only sponsor, Karikaas Dairy Products Ltd. Most importantly ongoing thanks are always due to ECan and their Regional Park staff, the Waimakariri DC and DOC. We might be the body which makes passionate pleas on behalf of the public, but without their professional support it would be very hard to make meaningful progress.
Nick Ledgard, Retiring chairman October 7, 2021
Kia ora All,
Please see below the link to the interview Nick Ledgard gave on CompassFM on Friday morning.
It is a good interview and I’m sure if you listen to it you will learn something.
Please see link below to an interview Grant Davey did on CompassFM last Friday (3rd Sept)
A very good interview, worth listening to.
REPORT from Nick Ledgard. (Aug 2021)
The last Update was written earlier this year in January, so a fair bit of water has gone under the bridge since then. Quite literally actually, as the most significant happening affecting our local river over the last 6 months has been the record floods of late May and mid June.
Down on the river. The floods not only cleared the riverbed of virtually all weeds, but also ate into the margin of the vegetated berm which lies between the open fairway and the marginal banks. This has widened the fairway in places, but it may well be less braided than before. Despite the floods, the berm remains considerably wider than it was a few decades ago, and as stated publicly many times recently, a braided river must have ‘room to move’ in order to maintain the braided riverbed habitat which the birds need for successful breeding and feeding. Although we now have a ‘weed-free / clean slate’ riverbed, the future challenge is how to keep it that way.
Bird movement. After February, our core indigenous breeding bird species (wrybill, black-fronted tern (BFT), black-billed gull (BBG), banded dotterel (BD), pied stilt and S. Is pied oystercatcher) move out to warmer winter locations. Most retreat to the coast and the northern N. Island, whilst some of the banded dotterels cross the Tasman Sea to Australia. Over winter, only a handful of other species, including a few BFT, remain on the river. We have good records of these, as some sections of the riverbed are walked at least monthly by Grant Davey and myself.
Maintaining habitat. Weed invasion remains our greatest threat, as although the record May/June floods swept the riverbed clean, the weeds will rapidly return. Initially, they will be small and more readily removed, so we have new opportunities for sorting out the cost-effective means of controlling them. The riverbed is owned by ECan and understandably, the prime aim of past management has been on flood control. This has sometimes been at the expense of conservation values, such as bird habitat. Hence, over the last year, we have had many discussions about shifting the management focus more towards environmental considerations.
Gravel extraction. This is the main commercial activity undertaken on the river. Although such activity can assist the birds by removing weeds, there are many examples which show that it can also create problems if not carried out properly. In our discussions, we have pointed these out to ECan, who are keen to correct consent deficiencies and improve their oversight. They are very aware that we spend more time on the riverbed than virtually anyone else, and so can act as watch-dogs. Gravel extraction has been considerable (some would say excessive) over recent years. It is likely to become more restricted in the near future, as despite the recent floods moving masses of gravel down-river, very little of this is ‘new’ ie., originating from catchment headwaters.
Predator trapping. This remains our major commitment in terms of personnel and operational hours involved - and continues all year round, both alongside the river and around the estuary. Over the last year there have been on average 236 traps along the river and 129 at the estuary, serviced at least monthly by 26 volunteer trappers. Nearly 100 traps were lost to the May/June floods, but thanks to generous cash donations and supply of materials, the majority of those have now been replaced. We are particularly grateful to the Mens Shed at Rymans Healthcare village who have made nearly all the replacement DOC200 boxes.
Trap catch. Over the past 2 years, we have trapped almost 1000 predators, with the dominant species being hedgehogs and rats. However, despite the consistent trapping effort, results show that the trap-catch rate has been static over recent years – at around 0.5 predators caught per 100 trap nights. The composition of predators caught alongside the river was very different to that caught at the estuary. Compared to the river, the estuary had a higher percentage of rats (53% estuary;35% river), stoats (16%; 6%) and weasels (18%; 11%), but a lower percentage of hedgehogs (9%; 38%) and feral cats (5%; 10%). The reasons for this are unknown.
Trapping review. A year ago, ECan agreed to fund a review of our trapping strategy, including the possibility of doubling our trap numbers by installing a double line alongside the river. A contractor has been approached to undertake the review.
Human disturbance. We continue to make sure the public are well informed – via media articles, presentations and talks, displays, and our website and Facebook page. In the 2020-21 year, there were 39 different promotion activities undertaken. Earlier this month, all 4WD access ways were mapped, and as in previous years these will be blocked during the breeding season (September to the end of January).
Finances. The Group is always closely following its accounts and budget situation - and generally our finances are in good shape. We are now mostly self-funded for our day-to-day existence, with monies coming from donations, our trap making and selling, and sponsorship via Karikaas Natural Dairy Products Ltd cheese sales. Funds for larger special projects usually come from ECan.
Reports. For over a year, ECan has been drafting a long-term management plan for the Ashley-Rakahuri River. This will recommend how we carry on into the future. It is hoped to be able to read this report in the near future. The annual report for 2020-21 will be completed within the next month. This, and a number of internal reports (referenced in the annual report), are written by Grant Davey and myself.
Group structure and meetings. In addition to the normal committee hierarchy of chair, secretary and treasurer, it was agreed in June to create three management teams – operations, communication and administration. It was felt that such a structure will lead to less work required by any one individual. The teams will be confirmed at the 2021 AGM on October 7, together with the member(s) to lead each of them. Our 8-person Management Committee continues to meet regularly.
Finally, this will be the last Update that I write as Chairman. After 18 years in this position, it is time to hand over to someone else.
As usual, many thanks to all our volunteers for the time taken to support our cause.