More than a year after Forest & Bird applied for a water conservation order to protect the natural values of the Ngaruroro River in Hawke’s Bay, the Minister for the Environment has appointed a special tribunal to consider the application. Amelia Geary writes about why the river is so important.
While most rivers in the North Island have a single channel, the Ngaruroro is a rare example of a braided river.
Starting high in the Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges, it ducks and weaves through the tussock dominated landscape, before winding through forested valleys and the gorges of Kaweka Forest Park and breaking into lots of smaller channels on the Heretaunga Plains at Whanawhana.
But once the Ngaruroro enters the plains, there is change in the character of the catchment and river. Almost all the native vegetation on the plains has been cleared and there is extensive agricultural land use on the river’s flanks.
Despite the intense modification of the river’s lower reaches, you will find a range of native wildlife and plants on the Ngaruroro – some threatened with extinction. It is a breeding ground for banded dotterels and black-billed gulls, which (along with 25 other species) share the conservation status of “threatened” meaning they are at risk of extinction.
It is also home to braided river birds that rely on this habitat for food and shelter, including New Zealand pipits, bitterns, Caspian terns, grey ducks, pied stilts, and red-billed gulls.