Creating a resource-rich ecosystem along the Burgess Stream

Dan Cameron and Swannanoa farmer Andrew Gilchrist at the Burgess Stream.

Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) biodiversity project lead Dan Cameron and Swannanoa farmer Andrew Gilchrist at the Burgess Stream site where 4500 native plants have been planted over the last three years.

Over the last three years, 4500 native plants have been planted along a 2.5 kilometre stretch of the Burgess Stream which winds through Andrew and Peter Gilchrist’s 430-hectare farming operation in Swannanoa.

It is the first freshwater site selected for improvement as part of a wider Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) biodiversity project which has identified sites of ecological interest with the potential for restoration or protection across the scheme’s 44,000-hectare command area.

WIL biodiversity project lead Dan Cameron says 297 sites of interest were discovered during the initial biodiversity survey in 2018. Along with the Burgess Stream, key areas for the biodiversity initiative include Hunter’s Stream, and the Cust River.

“We are focusing on protecting existing areas of ecological significance which are connected to neighbouring shareholder land to create a cohesive approach to restoring biodiversity.”

The 2.5-kilometre section of the Burgess Stream on Andrew and Peter Gilchrist’s property includes several springheads which play a significant role in improving the entire stream system, says Dan.

“When you improve freshwater from its source you have the biggest impact on the entire stream system. This also enables the benefits of the work you are doing to kick in much sooner for other parts of the stream.”

The Burgess Stream crosses 13 kilometres of WIL shareholder land before it enters lifestyle block properties at its southern end. In the long term, Dan would like to see as much of the stream enhanced and protected as possible, with the potential for the lifestyle block owners to get involved in the environmental restoration project.

“Once we have the shareholder owned land restored along the riparian margin of the stream it would be fantastic to share knowledge and resources with lifestyle block owners at the southern end of Burgess Stream. Working together to restore the ecosystem of the entire stream would be amazing.”

Andrew Gilchrist says that working with staff and local school children on the planting project has been incredibly rewarding. It has also enabled more funding to be used for purchasing plants.

“Peter and I run a contracting and manufacturing business along with the farm so part of it is seasonal work which means that our staff were able to get involved with planting days and site preparation work.

“It has also meant that the $10 000 of Immediate Steps (IMS) funding from Environment Canterbury could be used entirely for plants as our staff have doing the site preparation and maintenance work.

Swannanoa farmer Andrew Gilchrist and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) biodiversity project lead Dan Cameron.

Swannanoa farmer Andrew Gilchrist and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) biodiversity project lead Dan Cameron examine the map containing restoration sites for the project.

“They have loved working on this project and seeing the changes as the plants have grown up around the edges of the stream.
“We also had a group of children, teachers and parents from Swannanoa School help us with the planting. They were so interested in learning about what we are trying to achieve.”

Native plants were selected based on what would have once existed in the area before it was modified by land use, along with species that provide ecosystem service, while also considering the types of plants that fit in with the farming operation, says Dan.

“We looked at what was ecologically appropriate for this site, considering the climate and the region, along with the qualities of the plants that provide benefits to the ecosystem that we are trying to create.

“Carex secta is known to colonise denitrifying bacteria in its roots which helps to naturally denitrify water and helps prevent sediment build up. We’ve also got flax as it is an excellent food source when it flowers.

“The long-term aim is to create a series of resource rich stepping stones to help attract native birds to the area, while the plants will also provide shade for the stream and increase the number of invertebrates and insect species. For this, we were guided by research published in 2006 by Colin Meurk and Graeme Hall.”
Andrew says he would encourage other farmers to get involved in environmental projects.

“From when we began this planting journey three years ago, we have seen so many positive benefits. It’s been awesome and our aim is to continue planting along the whole stream.

“We’re not sure how long it will take, but when you make a start, you can keep chipping away at it. It is positive all around from a water quality and environmental perspective.”