The Otago Regional Council has committed to working with iwi and the local community to develop a management plan to protect the upper Taieri River’s unique scroll plain.
The management plan, which is an alternative to the stock exclusion regulations, will focus on delivering the best outcomes for the wetlands which form the scroll plain.
ORC Chair Gretchen Robertson says ORC supports all work to improve water quality across the region, including the scroll plains which she describes as a “spectacular meandering system of oxbows and wetlands”, at times connected to the Taieri River.
“The scroll plains are home to a diverse assemblage of habitats including highly valued plant, insect and freshwater species. Extensive cattle grazing has been interwoven in this very dry-farmed landscape over many decades,” she says.
Upper Taieri River scroll plains. Photo Credit: ORC files
She highlighted the scroll plains are a “complex and unique environment” where the application of some aspects of the Stock Exclusion Regulations will not necessarily provide the desired protections.
“This [grazing] exemption is about enhancing the natural values of this amazing system as a primary focus, requiring careful management through monitoring and bespoke use of on-farm management tools,” she says.
On 22 August Minister for the Environment David Parker and Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor wrote to ORC, requesting its agreement to manage stock access to freshwater in the scroll plain, using a suitable management plan, before the Ministers’ can “progress an exception to regulatory requirements”.
In a response to the Ministers on 24 August, Cr Robertson agreed with them and said ORC is committed to the alternative approach of a scroll plains management plan, noting the Ministers had legislative requirements to progress through Cabinet “of the exception pathway”.
The Ministers said that to better achieve improved freshwater outcomes for the scroll plains, that would not be possible without accommodation to the existing Stock Exclusion Regulations.
“We [Ministers] acknowledge the size and complexity of the wetlands mean they are both unique and particularly challenging for excluding stock. We also understand that the threat of pest species to the health of the wetlands has historically been effectively managed through controlled grazing of cattle.”
“We consider improved freshwater outcomes for the Upper Taieri Scroll Plain is better achieved through an alternative approach that allows for carefully managed grazing and note that this is not possible without accommodation [changes] in the Stock Exclusion Regulations,” the Ministers said.
Amendments to the Stock Exclusion Regulations, including the exception for the Upper Taieri Scroll Plain, were gazetted today.
Upper Taieri River scroll plains, mid-2022. Photo Credit: ORC files
Cr Robertson says the ORC’s ability to work with tangata whenua and the community on developing the best approach for the scroll plains to ensure wetland protection and enhancement will ensure the scroll plains as a taonga are protected and enhanced.
“ORC is very keen to work with Iwi and community for the best wetland outcomes,” she says.
“By ensuring there is a robust monitoring framework sits across this project is critical for its success. We need to ensure we are adaptable and proactive to benefit the wetlands,” she says.
Grazing is one tool ORC wanted to retain in the toolbox, so it can be used where it enhances wetland values and removed at other times, or in other places, where it doesn’t enhance, she says.
“We don’t want to inadvertently lose the very values we want to protect through the wetland being outcompeted by aggressive weeds,” she says.
Cr Robertson also says fencing as a tool is not being ruled out for some of the fragile scroll plains areas.
The Ministers outlined their expectations of the ORC; to consult with the local community and tangata whenua, implement in the ORC’s regional plan no later than 1 July 2025, protect the values of the natural wetlands and to map and monitor under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.