Protection of the upper Taieri River’s unique scroll plain is to be enhanced, with Otago Regional Council committing to working with iwi and the local community to develop a management plan for the area.
The plan, which is an alternative to the stock exclusion regulations, will focus on delivering the best outcomes for the wetlands that form the scroll plain.
ORC chair Gretchen Robertson said the council supports all work to improve water quality across the Otago 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 said.
She said 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 said.
On August 22, 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”.
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 the cabinet “of the exception pathway”.
The ministers said improving freshwater outcomes for the scroll plains “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”.
Amendments to the stock exclusion regulations, including the exception for the Upper Taieri Scroll Plain, have been gazetted.
Robertson said the ORC’s ability to work with tangata whenua and the community on developing the best approach to ensuring wetland protection and enhancement will ensure the scroll plains as a taonga are protected and enhanced.
Grazing is one aspect 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 them, she said.
“We don’t want to inadvertently lose the very values we want to protect through the wetland being outcompeted by aggressive weeds,” she said.
Robertson also said 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 the ORC’s regional plan no later than July 1, 2025, protect the values of the natural wetlands and to map and monitor under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.