A new conservation strategy for Canterbury’s dilapidated braided rivers is expected to be unveiled this year.
Canterbury Regional Council will work with local communities, private landowners and iwi to improve the health of rivers, which have deteriorated in recent decades.
The Braided River revival plan was announced by Environment Canterbury in November, with the Rangitata and Rakahuri / Ashley rivers being the first to be incorporated into the new plan.
He was supported by Tumu Taiao, who advises the council on mana whenua interests.
The Braided Rivers Council’s senior adviser, David Owen, said a holistic approach to the river was needed and that each river would have its own individual path.
“We created the Braided River Revival / Whakahaumanu NgÄ Awa to PÄkihi work program to align … the many river management responsibilities of the council … regional parks.”
Owen said rivers are rare internationally and New Zealand has some of the best examples of braided rivers in the world.
“We are so lucky to have rivers of this nature in Canterburyâ¦ we probably take them for granted to some extent as a community, but they are unique and special places with a variety of specialized wildlife.”
The president of physical geography at the University of Auckland, Gary Brierley, who is an expert on the braided river, thought the program was a great idea.
âWe are behind much of the rest of the world in managing the flow space of rivers, which is essential for the health of braided river systems,â Brierley said.
“Things are conspiring to give us a very different window on this right now and I think there is something to be optimistic about in this space.”
A ki uta ki tai – from the mountains to the sea – approach would be the key to the preservation of rivers and was at the heart of the revival.
Brierley described this as seeing the river as alive, not just the water in the Canterbury Plains.
“[The plan needs to] incorporate Te Mana o Te Wai [fundamental importance of water], a holistic sense of how rivers work from mountains to sea and the idea of ââa living river.
“So that means recognizing the river as something that adjusts and evolvesâ¦ something that is respected. That’s what I would like to see.”
Owen agreed and said the council was working with communities to create a specialized stimulus plan for each river.
âThe Rangitata program grew out of the Department of Conservation’s NgÄ Awa River Restoration Program with its partner Te RÅ«nanga o Arawhenua, from their commitment to work for a broader partnership to restore the mauri (life force) of Rangitata awa.
âSeparately, Environment Canterbury has identified the Rakahuri / Ashley River as a river of strong community interest. She also faced a wide range of environmental pressures that negatively impacted her naturalness.
Both experts described the plan as a generational shift and one that would ensure all generations could benefit from a high-quality braided river system.
âIt’s a long term plan,â Owen said. âOver time, this means that rivers will have improved mahinga kai values, likely more resilient biodiversity, and fewer weeds and pests. I would also expect to see more recreational opportunities over time. . “
Brierley believed that Aotearoa had the ability to have pristine braided rivers – and the management of other rivers could play a role in that.
The Whanganui River was the first in the world to be granted the same legal rights as a human being and the local iwi have long had the whakatauki âI am the river and the river is meâ guiding their kaitiaki practices.
âWe have to learn to live with rivers, not try to assert human authority over rivers. I think we have to change the philosophy we live in,â Brierley said.
Rangitata and Rakahuri / Ashley Rivers’ stimulus plans are expected to be made public in the first half of 2022.