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Last modified: 27 Oct 2022 2:23pm

image across Rakaia Gorge looking towards the alps

An intensive weed control project in Rakaia Gorge is helping to protect the area’s rare and precious native plants and trees.

The weed control project is being carried out over four years, and after Selwyn District Council, Environment Canterbury and landowners undertook an assessment of the gorge’s ecological values, and the weeds that threaten them.

The Gorge is rich in native biodiversity, with diverse mixed hardwood species, bluff shrublands, tussock land, grasslands and two large wetlands.

At least 16 threatened and at-risk native plant species have been recorded - including Canterbury pink broom, and Rōhutu/Myrtle – both nationally critical, along with others that are regionally uncommon.

According to Council’s Senior Biodiversity Advisor Andrew Spanton, the project recognises Rakaia Gorge’s special role in maintaining local biodiversity.

“Because of its steep banks and high cliffs Rakaia Gorge has been relatively free of grazing and fires, making it something of a safe haven for native plants,” he says.

Along with sycamores; cherry, cotoneaster and wilding conifers have been identified as causing significant issues in the Gorge.

“These species are highly competitive and will usually outcompete our native plants. In our first year of work we were playing catch up to remove the most obvious and harmful weeds,” he says. A contractor is now being engaged to start on the second year of weed control.

“While weed eradication is our top priority, there are also complementary trapping and planting projects underway,” Spanton says. “The weed control in the Gorge is a great demonstration of a biodiversity partnership project that includes input and funding from Gorge landowners, Ministry for Primary Industries, the Trustpower Rakaia Catchment Environmental Enhancement Fund, Land Information New Zealand, ECan, Ashburton District Council and Selwyn District Council.”