Environment Canterbury today expressed its deep disappointment with reports of endangered black-billed gulls on the Ashburton River allegedly being interfered with by members of the public.
A colony of 3000 birds has been nesting on the riverbed of one of Canterbury’s iconic braided rivers and has been under pressure particularly from recent flooding.
Senior Biodiversity Advisor Frances Schmechel said Environment Canterbury understands the Department of Conservation is currently investigating the alleged offence. Disturbing protected birds and destroying nests is an offence under the Wildlife Act 1953 which can potentially result in imprisonment or a fine of $100,000.
“We would strongly support such a move - this sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable,” Dr Schmechel said. “And unfortunately it’s not the first time a motorist has driven on to the river bed and destroyed nests and eggs of a very vulnerable species which tends to desert its nest if disturbed early in incubation. This despite prominent ‘Endangered Bird’ signs at a number of locations along the river including the access point apparently used in this instance.”
Environment Canterbury river engineers have moved to block access to the site. “We also need members of the public to keep an eye out and report to DOC or the police if they see anything untoward,” Frances Schmechel said.
“There are a number of organisations working hard to improve biodiversity in the Ashburton area and it’d be a great shame to see any of their efforts go to waste in this way. I’d like to acknowledge particularly the Ashburton Canterbury Water Management Zone Committee, Fish & Game, Forest & Bird, the Ashburton District Council Biodiversity Action Plan Group and the Ashburton River/Hakatere Mouth Action Committee.
“They have put a lot of work into improving the habitat and health of the river, including predator control funded by Environment Canterbury, and into raising awareness of the black-billed gull colony and lobbying for its protection. We must not allow the actions of a few uncaring individuals to undermine this.”
Black-billed gulls (not to be confused with the larger, more numerous and aggressive black-backed gulls) are classified nationally as “In serious decline” and internationally as “Endangered”, making them the world’s most threatened gull species. In November 2007, the Ashburton River colony was attacked by vandals who killed over 100 birds.
The Ashburton River is one of the most significant rivers for braided river birds in Canterbury. The Ashburton District Council has identified the river as an Area of Significant Nature Conservation Value in its district plan.
However, due to factors such as weed encroachment, flow changes, predation and disturbances, all bird populations have declined. Historically the Ashburton River had some of the highest counts of black-billed gulls of any braided river, but numbers have plummeted in recent years.
Environment Canterbury has a wide variety of responsibilities in relation to braided rivers – managing riverbeds, and water flow and allocation; flood control works; biosecurity and biodiversity pest control; encouraging sustainable management, and habitat protection and enhancement.