Selwyn District is large, diverse and ecologically fascinating

High country scene

The Selwyn District is large, diverse and ecologically significant

It takes in a swathe of the eastern central South Island, from island-like Banks Peninsula and the unique Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, across the great Canterbury Plains, and through the foothills to the crest of the Main Divide. The district includes significant conservation parks such as Arthur's Pass National Park, Craigieburn Forest Park and Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

The Selwyn District has a broad spectrum of ecological zones from the mountains to the sea, reflected in the 16 ecological districts that cover it. The flat plains give way to foothills and rising mountains cloaked with mountain beech/tawhai. The district is bounded by two significant braided rivers: the Waimakariri River in the north and the Rakaia River in the south. A major river within the district is the Waikirikiri/Selwyn River which begins its journey between the foothills and the Southern Alps and crosses the Canterbury Plains to enter Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.

The native vegetation of the Canterbury Plains has been highly modified since human occupation. Much of the original swamp land has been drained and converted to pasture, and shrublands and forests have been cleared. Burning and cultivation has left only isolated pockets of indigenous vegetation. The high country has not escaped modification; the introduction of exotic species in the last 100 plus years has led to forests, tussock and shrublands being invaded by weed species. Previous burnings and continuing cultivation of grey shrub areas (areas that consist of a variety of small-leaved, highly branched shrubs such as matagouri, mingimingi (Coprosma propinqua) and olearia) continue to diminish habitat for our native wildlife; including insects, birds and lizards.

The Selwyn District Council is working with landowners and agencies to identify Significant Natural Areas (SNA's) on their land. The Council supports, advises on, and enables the long term management, protection and restoration of these key areas.

Alpine grasshopper

Wildlife ranges from the secretive Australasian Bittern found in the swamps and wetlands of the lower plains to the inquisitive Kea, the world's only alpine parrot, found in the mountain ranges of the Main Divide. Numbers of these species and many others have and are still declining through the loss of native habitat and predation by introduced predators.

The alpine grasshopper (Brachaspis nivalis), pictured right - is one of Canterbury's endangered species Photo: (c) Jon Sullivan, some rights reserved (CC BY)

Native Biodiversity Projects

There are many projects happening on both private and public land throughout the District to protect and restore remaining areas of indigenous biodiversity, and develop new native planting sites. The Selwyn District Council and other agencies along with community groups are working to restore and increase habitat so that our special native flora and fauna can survive in the long term.

These include:

  • the Selwyn District SNA Assessment project which has a focus on identifying and protecting native biodiversity on private land in partnership with Selwyn landowners
  • the Selwyn Natural Environment Fund which funds native biodiversity initiatives
  • the Green Footprint Project is lead by the Youth Hostel Association of New Zealand
  • Enviroschools work with local schools in the Selwyn District to explore and grow their kaupapa.
  • Te Ara Kākāriki Greenway Canterbury Trust runs the Greendots program to increase indigenous biodiversity across the Canterbury Plains.
  • The Kids Discovery Plantout Programme is a successful collaboration between Te Ara Kākāriki, Enviroschools and Lincoln University.
  • Living Water is a partnership between Fonterra and the Department of Conservation. The Ararira-LII River catchment in the Selwyn District is one of five regions where Living Water is working.

Restoration plantings at Yarrs Flatchildren monitoring aquatic invertebrates

Photos: Restoration plantings at Yarrs Flat (left), children monitoring aquatic invertebrates as part of the KDP programme (right).