"The Ashley River flows close to Rangiora, and is easily accessed by recreational users, as it is only 2 km north of the township. In 1999, a public meeting in Rangiora attended by 80 people elected a committee representing over 20 interest groups, to assist with the management of the middle reaches of the river. This committee, known as the Ashley/Rakahuri Rivercare Group, currently consists of 20 people.
At least 15 stakeholder agencies and groups have an interest in the river’s long-term sustainable management. Most are represented by people that regularly attend Group meetings, while others are sent information on the Group’s activities.
The major objective of the Group is to improve the breeding success of native birds which nest in the Ashley/Rakahuri riverbed. The focus is on three ‘rare and endangered’ native species in particular: the wrybill plover, the black-fronted tern and the black-billed gull. The river is the northern-most breeding site for the wrybill, the only bird in the world with a bill which turns sideways. The threatened status of the black-fronted tern has recently been made higher than the wrybill, due to the population being in faster decline. Both species breed only in the South Island. The rarity status of the third species, the black-billed gull, is not so high.
Numbers of these rare and endangered species continue to decline steadily. In the 2002 breeding season, the wrybill population on the river was down to less than 6 pairs, whilst the few remaining colonies of terns and gulls seldom contain more than 50 pairs. Frequently, only a handful of these pairs manage to successfully fledge chicks. In 2004, despite a good start to the season, when 200 gulls and 50 terns were attracted to man-made ‘islands’, none succeeded in raising chicks. Wrybills were more successful, raising 1.2 and 0.64 chicks/pair in 2003 and 2004 respectively – well above the national average.
All these bird species prefer open areas, free of trees and shrubs, for successful breeding. Two major causes for declining bird numbers are weed infestations of the riverbed, and predation by pests – principally stoats, ferrets and wild cats. The Group is attempting to improve the breeding success of the rarest birds (wrybill, terns and gulls) by creating weed-free areas which are then protected from predators by trapping during the breeding season. The major woody weed is yellow lupin (Lupinus arboreus), with gorse and broom also present. In 2004 we created approximately 5 ha with the appropriate weed-free surfaces for nesting, well above the reach of all but the worst floods. All three islands attracted breeding birds – one of the first times this has been achieved in NZ. Around these we concentrated traps, catching 4 wild cats, 3 stoats, 6 weasels and numerous hedghogs this last season.
We believe that the rare bird enhancement work on the Ashley river is unique in its combination of range of species involved, the creation of man-made weed-free breeding areas, proximity to major urban populations, and the challenge of integrating the recreational pursuits of a whole host of different stakeholders with an interest in the river’s use."