Reviving Canterbury’s braided rivers


Author: Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Environment Canterbury manages 59 river control and drainage schemes across the region. This includes 650 km of stopbanks and nearly 700 km of drains.

Flood protection and drainage are a big part of what we do to protect people and property, but, working alongside iwi, we also have a responsibility to promote biodiversity and biosecurity.

The value of the braided rivers

Canterbury’s braided rivers contribute around 88 percent of the total river flow in the region, making them an integral part of the landscape and distinctive for their shifting channels and banks.

Along with their visual appeal, they provide hydroelectricity to the region, support agricultural production, supply drinking water, and serve customary and recreational needs.

They are also the habitat for many unique plants and animals and act as a buffer for aquatic ecosystems from the adjoining land.

In fact, the biologically rich braided rivers are some of the last remaining strongholds of biodiversity on the Canterbury Plains, forming a vital ecological link from the mountains to the sea.

Braided River Revival

Over time, the biodiversity of these special rivers has deteriorated, prompting the need to take action to improve their overall health while still managing their many important uses.

The Braided River Revival / Whakahaumanu Ngā Awa ā Pākihi programme is just one example of such work in this space. The programme demonstrates how a holistic approach to river management can cater to multiple needs.

It involves partnering with mana whenua and working with stakeholders, government agencies, and councils to regenerate the natural environment of the rivers and restore the mountain-to-the-sea ecological corridors.

Although the programme is still largely in the early planning stages, work has already begun on the Rangitata River and Ashley River/Rakahuri.

This work includes:

  • restoration plans for sites such as Ealing Springs and McKinnons Creek;
  • the monitoring and protecting of braided river birdlife during the nesting season;
  • willow and brush weed control between the Okuku River and Ashley Gorge;
  • and measures to promote mahinga kai, biodiversity and recreation in the river north of Rangiora.
Working together

In many cases, the work will involve the wider community and adjoining landowners.

In fact, with regard to the work protecting wildlife in the Ashley River/Rakahuri, this is only progressing thanks to the efforts of community volunteers from the Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group.

It’s important to understand that this is a collective programme that requires acknowledging and balancing the cultural, commercial, environmental and recreational needs of the Canterbury community and their relationship with the rivers.

At the same time, the programme recognises that we all have a part to play in securing the health and wellbeing of these important rivers – that it is a shared responsibility.