Four-wheel-drivers ignore warnings to spend Crate Day on riverbed near endangered birds

3:39 pm on 6 December 2022
Cars and people at Ashley River on Crate Day. Supplied by Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group

Four-wheel-drivers near a nesting spot for endangered birds at Ashley River. Photo: Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group/Supplied

A group of about 70 four-wheel-drivers ignored conservation warning signs and drove onto a Canterbury riverbed where endangered birds are nesting.

The Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group called their actions, on Saturday, "glaringly predictable and disappointing".

Every year, four-wheel drives (4WDs) drove up and down the top half of the Ashley River as part of an unofficial drinking event known as Crate Day, the group said.

"Everybody's searched Facebook and we can't find any group. So when it's national Crate Day, we just go up there and wonder if it's going to happen," spokesperson Judith Hughey said.

The rivercare group put out a plea on its Facebook page for drivers to stay off the river, but the cars "unsurprisingly" turned up in the morning, she said.

The drivers ignored Department of Conservation (DOC) signs which informed them it was a restricted area during nesting season, Hughey said .

Department of Conservation sign at Ashley River. Supplied by Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group

A DOC sign warning people of the endangered birds can be seen near the river. Photo: Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group/Supplied

"It's just a classic case of a big group with big toys. They speed up and down the river, in and out of the water, as usual. Chicks wouldn't have time to get out of the way," she said.

The Ashley River was home to endangered bird species like the black-fronted terns, and Hughey said it was an important place for some birds which only nest in South Island braided rivers.

Another concern was the leaking of contaminants from cars, which were harmful to bugs and fish that the birds survived on, she said.

DOC biodiversity ranger Sandy Yong said enforcement was difficult in this situation.

"You almost need to have someone on site where a nest is, and demonstrate that a vehicle has gone over the nest, then be able to almost effectively stop the driver and get evidence directly," she said.

Cars and people at Ashley River on Crate Day. Supplied by Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group

The group were at the site on Crate Day. Photo: Ashley-Rakahuri Rivercare Group/Supplied

When DOC were at the scene last year staff were overwhelmed by people and cars and the environment was unsafe, she said.

Yong said DOC had increased signage at access points and nesting sites, and had tried to increase people's understanding about the value of these rivers.

DOC was going to investigate the damage to the nesting sites this week, she said.

"We are disappointed and we do have plans to review the impact this year, and are hoping to probably put in some additional measures."

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