Birds responding to vehicles crate day Ashley River
Image: Ashley Rakahuri Rivercare Group | ©


Greater awareness of the need for four-wheel drivers to give nesting native river birds space has led to an annual event in Canterbury’s Ashley River/Rakahuri moving from December to February in the future.

Date:  15 December 2023

For more than a decade, a group of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts has been taking to the Ashley River/Rakahuri on the first Saturday of December, which happened to fall on Crate Day. The event has grown to a significant size, with more than 150 vehicles attending this year, and was impacting on the breeding of nesting birds.

From early September to the end of January, threatened native birds like ngutu pare/wrybill, tarapirohe/black-fronted tern, tūturiwhatu/banded dotterel, and tarāpuka/black-billed gull breed in the dynamic South Island braided rivers like the Ashley River/Rakahuri. During this time, they are vulnerable to disturbance, and as their evolutionary defences rely on camouflage, they are difficult to spot.

This year, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Ashley Rakahuri Rivercare Group, Waimakariri District Council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), Police and the Combined 4WD Club made a collective plea for drivers to keep off braided riverbeds during nesting season, and the event received significant media coverage highlighting the impacts on birds.

Following the publicity, one of the original event participants, Ash Sergeant, posted to social media announcing it will now take place on the first weekend of February.

He says the new date will avoid any conflict with nesting birds or conservation groups and will allow people attending to enjoy the day out.

“Most of us are upstanding respectful members of society that participate in the river ‘clean up’ days and do our best to preserve the area we enjoy. I want to see our access to the river maintained for years to come and I don't think butting heads with people that are just trying to do what they think is right will be the correct way to go about that,” Ash Sergeant says.

He encouraged drivers to please be respectful whenever they are in the riverbed, no matter the date.

“It's an amazing, unique area that I feel everyone should be able to use and enjoy. Slow down around swimmers, avoid fishers as well as families’ having bbqs and ‘days out’, and pick up any rubbish you see.”

DOC North Canterbury Operations Manager Leeann Ellis says it’s fantastic there is strong support from participants of the four-wheel-drive event to change it to after the river bird nesting season in the future.

“We appreciate that participants have considered the impact the event has on endangered nesting birds, especially given all the predator trapping and bird monitoring work volunteer groups put in.

“Braided rivers are globally rare, and the birds have evolved to live here are unique and are part of what makes the South Island special.

“Moving the four-wheel-drive event from December to February will reduce the disturbance to these birds while they are nesting.”

Leeann Ellis says other drivers are also encouraged to avoid braided riverbeds during nesting season.

The Ashley Rakahuri Rivercare Group (ARRG) formed in 1999 to protect riverbed birds and their habitat. They run an extensive trapping network, undertake community education and advocacy for the birds, weed islands and monitor and band returning birds and new chicks.

ARRG spokeswoman Judith Hughey says the group is pleased plans are under way to move the rally out of nesting season.

“ARRG congratulates Ash Sergeant for standing up, taking leadership and recognising that the event has morphed into something that is disastrous for the already endangered braided river birds.

“Our hope is that all participants will heed the call. It would be an example for a change of behaviour on rivers throughout New Zealand.”

ECan Parks and Forests Manager Chuck Dowdell says he was delighted to see people acknowledge the need to avoid the whole river at this time of year.

“We encourage everyone to be considerate in their recreational use of the river, especially during critical times like nesting season, and we will maintain a presence at the Ashley Rakahuri next year to engage with anyone who may have missed the message about the event’s postponement.

“Ahead of the new February dates, we urge participants to take the time to make their vehicles safe, clean and compliant.”

Combined 4WD Clubs Chairperson Mike Sheppard says the club is pleased a responsible solution has been found to protect the birds during breeding season.

“This positive outcome is due to the actions and efforts of all the organisations involved and also the participants of the annual event who have made the right call."

Waimakariri District Council Greenspaces Manager Grant MacLeod says he’s thrilled to see common sense prevail with a change in date.

“This is a major win for our birds and river users. I’d like to thank the 4WD clubs for being sensible with their change in date and we look forward to working with them and their members to ensure our rivers remain safe for all users during future events.”


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