This year's successful Budget bid for freshwater conservation will do much to enhance the ecological restoration of three of New Zealand's foremost wetlands, the Green Party announced today.
Whangamarino Wetland in the Waikato; the Ashburton Lakes and the Upper Rangitata River in inland Canterbury; and the Waituna Lagoon and Awarua wetland complex in Southland have been selected for new baseline funding of $2 million a year of operational expenditure and $200,000 of capital expenditure over four years, Greens Conservation Spokeswoman Metiria Turei says.
"That's more than 10 times the funding these sites have had to date, and the Department of Conservation is going to be able to do serious work to protect the high conservation values of these sites, which are under threat."
All sites are affected by declining water quality from increasing nutrient and sediment inputs into feeder catchments, and by invasive weeds and animal pests. Once managed, these sites would have the potential for re-introducing locally extinct brown teal/pateke, and improving the situation of endangered species such as bittern/matuku, fernbird/matata, southern crested grebe/kamana, and wrybill/ngutuparore.
"A big part of the projects at each site will be to work with the communities in each region, such as iwi, land owners, regional councils, recreational users, landcare and conservation groups, because issues like water quality need to be managed at source, and much of this is on surrounding private land," Mrs Turei says.
Part of the projects would be to improve public access and recreational opportunities at Whangamarino and at the Southland wetlands, and to better manage recreation such as off-road vehicle use at the Ashburton Lakes to reduce damage to fragile habitats.
"We are particularly keen on these projects because of the human element - it's a very good way of raising awareness of the wide range of values that wetlands provide, at a time when wetlands are still disappearing in New Zealand because of economic development, despite their being a national priority for conservation."
Metiria Turei said a very important part of the Budget bid would be that the three sites would operate as test beds for developing new technologies and methods for wetland conservation that could be applied to other sites around the country.
"So, there are going to be benefits extending way beyond the initial scope of this initiative, and the Green Party is to be congratulated for being able to get a strategic area for conservation in New Zealand, and indeed globally, off the ground."
"Many of the species that will benefit from enhanced wetland habitats will be wading birds and water birds that fly cross the equator twice a year to breeding grounds in Siberia and Alaska," Mrs Turei says.
"There will be spin offs for activities such as bird watching tourism, a wide range of recreational activities for New Zealanders and visitors from overseas, and for activities such as fishing, whitebaiting and cultural harvest of some wetland resources. There will be important gains for freshwater quality as well, an issue of growing importance in New Zealand.'
Only 45,600 ha of wetlands remain in New Zealand, which is 9.4 per cent of their original extent. Habitat destruction for farming and other development has been the main cause of wetland loss. Because of this, a number of wetland species have become uncommon or endangered.
A statement of national priorities for protection of rare and threatened native biodiversity on private land, published in April 2007, highlighted wetlands as an ecosystem type that has become uncommon due to human activity.
An independent review of the first five years of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000-2020 by Dr Bruce Clarkson and Dr Wren Green recommended a higher priority to be given to freshwater protection, restoration and sustainable management; and to make more explicit the need to protect biodiversity and "ecosystem services", such as water quality, flood protection, recreational and cultural values, and value for fish and game.
Private interest in wetland conservation in New Zealand is growing. Of $1.7 million granted via the government's Biofunds to private conservation projects in 2006-2007, $467,000 was allocated to 53 wetland projects. The figures for 2005-2006 are: of $2.3 million granted, $429,000 was allocated to 38 wetland projects.