The popular Taylor River has a myriad of uses besides swimming, like the Five Buck a Duck Derby. File photo.

Sewage risk for Taylor River

Sewerage could still be leeching into the Taylor River from earthquake damaged pipes.

The popular river, that wends its way through the Blenheim town centre, is listed as unsuitable for swimming on the Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) interactive swim map due to sewerage contamination.

Despite council plugging what was thought to be the main source of contamination, the Third Lane sewer main, other pipes are yet to be repaired.

Marlborough District Council team leader for water quality Peter Hamill says kilometres of sewerage pipes were damaged in the 2016 Kaikoura quake.

But council scientists say they’re seeing a slight improvement of water quality at the river with recent tests giving swimming the green light.

Peter says he would swim in the river; but only if it hadn’t rained recently.

“We want to make sure people can enjoy the amenities and we’re doing our best to make sure that happens,” Peter says.

The river has a long-term grade of poor, but latest tests say the quality is ‘good’ for swimming.

Peter says following the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, kilometres of sewerage pipes were damaged causing spikes in e. coli in the waterway.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria commonly found in the gut of warm blooded organisms.

It can survive outside the body about four to six weeks in fresh water making it a useful indicator of faecal presence and the disease-causing organisms that may be present in faecal matter.

E. coli is relatively straightforward and inexpensive to measure, but the indicator bacteria isn’t particularly dangerous, Peter says.

“Campylobactor and giardia are expensive to measure,” he says.

Peter says the Taylor River is safe for dogs.

“What’s bad for humans isn’t necessarily going to have an effect on dogs.”

He says the biggest issue with the Taylor is what people put down their drain.

“Every stormwater grate along the roads – it goes into the Taylor River,” Peter says.

“Urban waterways are difficult, you don’t know what people are putting into their storm water drains.

“That’s why we put the blue fish – to remind people what goes down there ends up with the fish.”

Peter says the river looks to be improving.

“We want it to be available to swim all the time.

“Definitely we have an issue when we get rainfall,” Peter says.

It’s a wider issue for all Marlborough rivers, too.

He says excrement from sheep, goats, cows and even things in the bush like possums, are all washed into the region’s waterways following rain.

“That’s why we recommend people to not swim up to three days after rain,” he says.

Pelorus bridge is the only swimming spot with a long-term grade of ‘good’.

Ferry Bridge’s long-term grade is ‘fair’, while Craig Lochart has a ‘poor’ long-term status.

Peter says for swimmers, the thing to look at is the recent test results.

“At Ferry bridge, 92 per cent of the time it’s safe for swimming,” he says.

“Most of the time, our waterways are ok – it comes down to those rainfall events,” Peter says.

He says council is assisting farmers with fencing and planting and are constantly investigating contamination sources.

“We want people to be able to swim in the river,” he says.

“The council is constantly testing and looking for broken pipes – but it’s the general public that ultimately have the power over the cleanliness of our waterways.

“The key message is everyone in the community can make a difference.”

Marlborough is one of the driest places in New Zealand. Photo: File.

Water shortages loom as rainfall levels disappoint

Water shortages are looming as latest rainfall totals are revealed with not much respite in sight.

August will fall short of normal rainfall totals it was revealed today, making Marlborough one of the driest regions in the country

Speaking to Marlborough District Council’s Environment Committee on Thursday, environmental scientist – Hydrology Val Wadsworth says soil moisture levels are suffering.

“Marlborough is one of the driest regions in New Zealand – we are only ever six to eight dry weeks away from water shortage issues.”

It’s a big difference from just two months ago, she says.

“Only two months in 2020 – May and June – recorded above average rainfall across the district.

“Annual totals for the year to date are generally about 60 percent to 75 per cent for most of Marlborough.

“A few sites in the Sounds and Te Hoiere/Pelorus areas are up to 90 per cent of the year-to-date (YTD) total.”

Val says in some areas the July and August totals are less than half of the normal rate.

Eastern and Southern Marlborough are sitting at between 45 per cent and 65 percent with Northern and Western Marlborough coming in at between 65 per cent to 75 per cent.

“NIWA is predicting the next two months rainfall to be about normal. There is still time for some good spring rainfall and nature does sometimes tend to balance itself out, but it is not a given.”

“The rainfall over the last few days will be very beneficial for early spring pasture growth,” says Val.

“Despite this, more rainfall is needed in spring to further replenish soil moisture and river base flows for the coming summer.”

The steadily declining Wairau Aquifer will get a much needed boost from the snowfall earlier in the week.

Snow cover in the Marlborough high country is a significant contributor to summer flows, Val says.

“Good Wairau River flows are a key part of the recharge mechanism for the steadily declining Wairau aquifer.

“Pastoral farmers will be the first to feel the pinch if moisture levels don’t produce sufficient spring growth to carry into summer. Irrigators will also be affected if river flows fall to below cut-off levels early or for prolonged periods,” she says.

The Wairau River is flowing below average for this time of year, with flows at between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of normal and the Awatere is at 75 per cent.

Planting work done by Taimate farmer John Hickman to restore native ecosystems may be eligible for future help. Photo: Matt Brown.

New fund to help nurture nature

A new $70,000 dollar a year fund has been set up to help keep Marlborough’s habitat happy.

Marlborough District council have set up the new Working for Nature/Mahi mō te Taiao in a bid to make the environmental grant process easier.

The new initiative will soon be on offer to landowners, businesses and community groups who meet the guidelines.

Deputy Chair of the Environment Committee Gerald Hope says the move puts the process on a par with council’s sports, arts, heritage and youth funding practice.

“Council has successful community grant schemes for sports, the arts and culture, heritage and youth but our environmental grant process has been less well coordinated.

Working for Nature will bring a much better structure to our process for granting funds for environmental protection and enhancement,” he says.

Funding has been reallocated from the Tui to Town programme and the Greening Marlborough fund.

More money could be made available from other sources, depending on demand, Gerald says.

Initiatives geared towards restoring native ecosystems, protecting native habitat and planting stream banks will be first in line.

The proposed $70,000 annual budget would be split between Habitat Marlborough to help restore native habitat and improve biodiversity and fresh water quality.

Protecting Marlborough is set to benefit from a $45,000 funds boost for animal control projects.

Councillor David Oddie says projects can take place on public, private or Māori-owned land.

“This fund will be welcome news for the many groups and individuals in Marlborough who are striving to improve natural habitats and control pests.”

Projects can take place on public, private or Māori-owned land.

“Successful applicants will be required to sign a funding agreement and provide an accountability report once the money is spent.”

The first round of applications will open on 1 October 2020 and close on 31 October 2020.

The decision is subject to ratification by the full Council on Thursday 17 September.

Marlborough District Council solid waste manager Alec McNeil hopes PONG will offer insight into the region’s bad smells. Photo: File.

Council turn to technology to keep bad smells at bay

Bad smells are set to be logged via a new online odour reporting system in a bid to keep them at bay.

Known as Prevailing Odour Not Good (PONG), the system will record and severity of the stench.

Council staff hope the move will offer some insight into where and why unpleasant smells happen.

Solid waste manager Alec McNeil updated colleagues about the move at a meeting in July.

In his report, he explained that he wanted to see the formal reported process strengthened.

“Currently odours are notified to council either direct to the department responsible for the site in question.

“While each odour complaint and follow up action is recorded, there is not a readily accessible culminative picture of odour reporting across the region.

“This will provide a data base recording of odours as experienced by the community.”

The new PONG system will provide staff with a searchable dashboard of offensive smells.

In terms of costs it has only been internal staff time as the systems and technology are already in place.

On-going issues should highlight a persistent problem almost straightaway, says Alec.

“Persistent, objectionable odours … should show a spike of complaints within a particular locale.

“Operationally, the source of the odour would be identified and a mitigation approach taken to reduce the potential for further impact.”

Especially terrible smells getting a lot of complaints would trigger emails to staff so action could be taken.

The council run Bluegums landfill site has come under fire in the past from nearby residents.

As the only mixed waste site in the region, getting up to 65,000 tonnes of waste each year, smells can waft over the southern end of Blenheim.

Council adopted several issues to help including covering the working area at the end of the day and operating an odour suppressant system – using a high-pressured irrigation style spray system.

The public can help keep bad smells at bay by reporting any they come across.

Council hope to put the system live after full council approval in early September.

“Raising community awareness of the availability of the PONG function will be crucial to achieving engagement,” says Alec.

Flaxbourne farmer John Hickman at the edge of Lake Elterwater. Photo: Matt Brown.

Flaxbourne farmer’s protester challenge

A Marlborough farmer fed up with a lack of action from climate change protesters has challenged them to walk the walk.

Fourth-generation Flaxbourne farmer John Hickman is looking for people to help pioneer change in a practical way.

The forward-thinking farmer wants to give people the chance to help – by getting their hands dirty.

“What got me going was the climate change protests,” he says.

“People were protesting to council and government – and I don’t think that’s the right way to get things done.”

To get the ball rolling, the Taimate Angus co-owner has fenced wetland on his 750-hectare farm and ordered 2000 native plants.

All he needs now is people power to help get the project underway.

He says people should take responsibility for the environment, but that many don’t know where to start.

“I want to give people who are anxious, who are worried about the future, an outlet – something to do that will make a difference to the environment for both habitat restoration and potential climate mitigation”.

“It’s up to each person but a lot of people simply don’t have the means.

“We have the land and the plants, but we struggle with the time,” John says.

Several years ago, John a neighbour and another worker spent weeks planting 6000 natives around Lake Elterwater – which his farm borders.

He says a flood in the first year buried the plants in debris, then it got so dry he and the neighbour had to pump water via a fire pump from the lake to keep them watered.

“It’s a hard environment to get things going, southerlies and northerlies roar through here.

“But we’re now building on a strong base.”

The lake, now boasting healthy lowland totara, kanuka, manuka, Carex, Oleria, Hoheria, cabbage trees, kowhai and flax attracts birdlife that people travel from throughout New Zealand to see.

“The lake’s a showcase area but there are other areas around the farm, other habitats that can be restored,” he says.

The programme has inspired John to replicate the success in other areas in the farm – with hopes to take it even further.

“So, I’m getting the ball rolling and getting things going from here.”

“I wanted somewhere that could link farmers and people that want to help.

“It’s also a way for farmers to do a larger area of planting and brings their cost down.

“At the same time, it helps the urban people that are feeling helpless.”

John says it will also help to break down the rural/urban divide.

“I’m a farmer.

“I don’t consider myself a massive environmentalist, but I do consider myself a protector of the land.”

The first planting day is organised for 9 August.

To get involved email [email protected]

“People, instead of protesting, can come help us out.”

Mussels are extensively farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. Photo: Supplied.

Scientists’ mussel seabed solution

Hopes to bring wild mussels back to the Sounds and boost marine diversity have moved a step closer.

An international team of experts are calling for Marlborough District Council to approve plans to create two new mussel beds in the Pelorus Sound.

And marine scientists hope the Marlborough project could spark mussel bed restoration initiatives in other parts of New Zealand.

The move comes after three years of investigation into the best way to create new seabed habitats.

Large areas of mussel beds were destroyed last century as land clearance and ongoing run off from farmland altered the nature of the seabed.

A report prepared for council by marine scientist Dr Andrew Jeffs says dropping clean shells to create a habitat for two new mussel beds in

the Pelorus Sound could stop further deterioration.

“For a number of years there has been concern, including from MDC, about the decline of wild shellfish beds in areas of the Marlborough Sounds.

“Studies in other areas have shown that mussel beds are extremely productive, support high biodiversity, act as nurseries for fin-fish species, and help to remove suspended sediment from the water column and stabilise the seabed,” the report says.

Scientists plan to drop clean shells to act as anchors for live mussels in a bid to test whether coarser seabed substrate will prove a better habitat than silt.

The multi-million-dollar project has attracted significant co-funding and specialist technical support from an overseas environmental NGO, The Nature Conservancy.

“One possibility for the lack of natural recovery of wild mussel populations in the Marlborough Sounds is the inability of mussels to re-establish naturally on this changed seabed substrate,” Andrew says.

“Mussels require sediment particles of at least 2 mm in diameter in order to attach their anchoring threads which hold them upright on the seafloor so they can feed,” he says.

The shell material and live mussels will be actively monitored by researchers.

The Marine Farming Association worked with other community groups, the University of Auckland and NIWA to develop the research plan.

A plan to stamp out stoats from D'Urville Island was signed during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Rod Morris/www.rodmorris.co.nz

Sayonara stoats: D’Urville’s $3.1m plan signed

History has been made during lockdown as a multi-million-dollar deal is signed to stamp out stoats.

There was little fanfare to mark the milestone occasion as the culmination of 16 years work was signed in just a few seconds.

A six-year funding commitment will see a combination of old-school techniques and technology help wipe-out stoats from New Zealand’s fifth largest island.

The 16,782-hectare D’Urville Island, in the Marlborough Sounds, is free of ship rats, Norway rats, possums and weasels.

Now, $3.1 million has been committed to stamping out stoats on the island.

D’Urville Island Stoat Eradication Charitable Trust (DISECT), Predator Free 2050 Limited, Rātā Foundation, Marlborough District Council, the NZ Lotteries Grant Board and landowners have all pledged their support.

Oliver Southerland and Angela Fitchett signing the Marlborough District Council agreement at a carefully prepared COVID-19 signing station. Photo: Supplied.

DISECT co-chair Oliver Sutherland says the moments mark the start of an opportunity to “reverse the history of wildlife loss.”

The project will use a variety of traps and lures, including automated luring with an egg mayo mix, as well as smart detection techniques such as cameras and DNA analysis.

Stoats have caused the local extinction of little spotted kiwi, yellow-crowned kākāriki and South Island kākā and threaten an important population of South Island long-tailed bats/ pekapeka.

Predator Free 2050 Limited chief executive Ed Chignell says the project will provide an important boost to the national Predator Free 2050 effort.

“This is a challenging and ambitious project with a lot at stake for wildlife and important opportunities for innovation and learning,” he says.

The government-owned funder is providing $975,000 and facilitating expertise from other projects around the country.

Marlborough District Council Mayor John Leggett says the restoration of wildlife could open new nature-based jobs and opportunities for the island.

D’Urville Island is New Zealand’s fifth largest island. Photo: Tamzin Henderson/ Driftwood Ecotours.

The council is providing $500,000 of support through its biosecurity programme.

Department of Conservation Sounds operations manager Dave Hayes says DOC has been providing technical advice to the project.

“We are pleased to support this community led initiative and will be continuing to provide expert advice and input throughout its duration of the project.”

Special attention will be given to trapping on the mainland within five kilometres of D’Urville and establishing a surveillance network to quickly detect any incursions across the narrow channel from French Pass.

Field work is expected to start towards the end of this year.

Marlborough Tramping Club will be heading to Cape Campbell in the new year. Photo: Matt Brown.

Summer explorers wanted

Department of conservation staff are looking for local explorers with a sense of adventure.

The annual summer explorer programme kicks off early next year and staff hope Marlborough residents will take up the challenge and join in.

Ranger Wendy Sullivan says it gives people the chance to uncover parts of the region they may not know.

“The Summer Explorer Programme is a great way to visit areas you haven’t been and take time to appreciate all that nature offers,” she says.

From an open day on Maud Island, and a boat trip to Pelorus Sound to a free nature treasure hunt at a range of walks, there will be plenty for people of all ages to see and do.

Staff will be on hand to help guide people through some of the best attractions on offer throughout the summer months.

Wendy says the fun starts with four open day on Te Pakeka/Maud Island, as well as a boat trip around Pelorus Sound.

“It’s renowned for its endangered insects and reptiles as well as home to the endangered Maud Island frog, so if you wanted a wildlife experience with a difference, it is well worth booking in,” she says.

Trips will be held on 5, 12, 25 and 26 January, and the boat trip is $135 adults/$65 children

A free nature treasure hunt at Momorangi campground will be held on Thursday 9 January. Rangers will help participants identify their finds with ID apps and books. Suitable for all ages.

Conservation Kids, Kids Conservation Club and East Coast Protection Group are combining forces to offer a three-part holiday series investigating through fun activities the wildlife of Marlborough’s east coast.

A huge range of other activities on offer at Envirohub Marlborough in Picton and Marlborough Tramping Camp will hold two walks, one to the Emerald Pools along the Pelorus River on Wednesday 12 January and Marfells Beach to Cape Campbell lighthouse on Sunday 22 January.

“Heading out with the tramping club on an organised walk is a great way to try out tramping or visit new places in a supportive group, Wendy says.

A full programme and all event details can be found at www.facebook.com/marlboroughconservationevents/events/.

Increased access to some east coast beaches is threatening the burgeon recovery of the quake damaged landscape. Photo: Matt Brown.

Council controversy over plan to ban drivers from beaches

A controversial bylaw which may ban drivers from beaches along a 45-kilometre stretch of coastline has been given the go ahead by council.

Marlborough District Council staff agreed earlier this week to draw up a bylaw banning drivers from the Awatere River mouth to the Ure River mouth.

The move comes after concerned residents implored council to take action to protect threatened indigenous species.

A bylaw restricting access to a 45-kilometre stretch of coastline has been given the go ahead by council. Photo: Matt Brown.
A bylaw restricting access to a 45-kilometre stretch of coastline has been given the go ahead by council. Photo: Matt Brown.

But the plan has “staggered” some of those who routinely use some of the access roads and beaches.

Council strategic planner Sarah Edmonds says increased access was hampering the recovery of the environment.

“There will be long-term damage if vehicle access continues.

In a report presented to council’s planning, finance and communities committee on Thursday, Sarah says the council has a “duty” to control vehicle access.

The report proposed cutting off beach access to vehicles, from Redwood Pass to Ward, and introducing a speed limit at Marfells Beach and Ward Beach, where boats could still be launched.

The bylaw would also restrict vehicles on unformed roads.

Marlborough Angling and Surfcasting Club president David Miller says he was “staggered” the bylaw was approved.

“I can’t believe it. They can’t close beaches off like that.”

David, who fished along the stretch at least 10 times a year, was also part of a group that cycled the coastline.

“Recently we cycled to the lighthouse and had a picnic. We were on the sand, so we were no damage to the environment.”

He had previously attended a meeting in Ward where members had discussed their concerns about quad bikes running over dotterel birds and their nests, before suggesting a vehicle ban.

“I said all beaches are legally public roads and that the council didn’t have the authority to restrict access to a beach like that.”

He would encourage the club’s 70 members to object during the bylaw’s consultation period, which had not yet been given a set date, he says.

A fisherman, who did not want to be named, said someone would end up “drowning or getting hurt” trying to access areas on their boat close to reefs, which were previously accessible on a quad.

“The new bylaw means you can only launch small boats from, say, Marfells Beach, but it’s rough there at the best of times.”

Forest and Bird top of the south regional manager Debs Martin said the news was received with excitment, but resignation.

“We know we’ll have another summer of damage along the shore in the interim, while the bylaw is being drafted.”

Councillor Cynthia Brooks says it was a “significant day” for the council.

“There’s a lot of history around vehicle use on the coastline, but it’s not the coastline it was three years ago, and it’s under threat.

“It’s one of the few wildernesses left in this country.”

LDR - Local Democracy Reporting

EcoWorld technician Margret Hall checking out the family of Little Blue Penguins before release. Photo: Supplied

Rescued penguin family go wild

A family of penguins are safely back in the wild after being released by rescuers.

The trio of Little Blue Penguins are finding their feet at Kaipupu Wildlife Sanctuary near Picton.

Nicknamed, Harry, Meghan and Archie by staff at EcoWorld Aquarium & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre staff, the family were found trapped in a drain in September.

But after a month of rehabilitation, the two adult penguins and their baby, have been given the all clear and freed on Thursday.

“It’s a real feel good story with a fantastic result,” says EcoWorld’s director John Reuhman.

“The Little Blues, affectionately named Harry, Meghan and Archie by one of our royalist visitors from the UK, have responded really well to our care.

“It’s been a privilege to watch them regain their health, especially mum and dad feeding their baby regurgitating up the King Salmon rehab. formula we fed them.

“The team has cared for them really well.  Now back in tip top condition and getting feistier every day we decided it was out the door and back into the wild for the trio.”