2050 Ecological Vision for Banks Peninsula/Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū

In 2050 Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/ Banks Peninsula native biodiversity is thriving across the region. Native ecosystems underpin our resilient communities, recognising that when nature thrives, we as people also thrive

To achieve this Vision, 10 inter-related Ecological Goals have been developed that guide all of the Trust’s work. We have developed the 10 Goals with input from partner organisations and acknowledge with gratitude the many contributors. The Ecological Vision is a resource to be used by the whole community and others are encouraged to adopt and/or adapt it for their own work. The full Ecological Vision including detailed descriptions of the 10 Ecological Goals can be downloaded here.

Banks Peninsula is uniquely placed geographically and ecologically as a biodiversity hotspot so we must protect it

Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/ Banks Peninsula is an extraordinary geological region and the biodiversity jewel for Christchurch and Canterbury. Its origins as an offshore volcanic island, its large size (about 100,000ha, the largest peninsula in Aotearoa), and its location as a high-altitude, high-rainfall counterpoint to the extensive low-altitude, low-rainfall plains of the Eastern South Island, all contribute to its distinctive characteristics.

The island that is now Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/ Banks Peninsula was formed by offshore volcanic activity over a period from twelve to six million years ago. When the volcanic activity finally ceased, the craters centred on Lyttelton and Akaroa eroded into today’s harbours as they were invaded by the ocean. Plant and animal life colonised the island and continued to evolve, separated from their mainland relatives. Eventually, c 20,000 years ago, the out-washed gravels from the glaciated Southern Alps of the South Island, which fanned out to form the Kā Pākihi Whakatekateka a Waitaha/ Canterbury Plains, reached the volcanic island and joined it to the rest of Te Wai Pounamu/ South Island, forming the Peninsula we know today.

The eroded volcanic landform creates remarkable diversity of microclimates providing exceptional habitat diversity for the species living there - from the windswept mountain tops (the highest Mt Herbert at 919m), rugged rocky bluffs, tors, coastal cliffs and islets, to the harbours and outer bays, deep fertile valley floors, streams and estuaries. On top of this intricate form, the volcanic soils, overlaid with wind-blown glacial loess from the plains, and a legacy of millions of years of burrowing sea birds depositing guano, formed rich fertile soils. With the plains joining the island to the mainland, large quantities of sand (formed from glacier-ground then river-worked rock from the Alps) constantly carried down to the sea by Canterbury’s braided rivers, gets transported around the Peninsula’s coast by long-shore drift, settling out into pockets around the base of the new Peninsula, creating many and varied beaches, estuaries, wetlands and dune systems.

These geological and island origins underpin the extraordinary diversity of life found upon Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū, and have made it a hotspot for local endemism, unique species that exist nowhere else in Aotearoa or the world.

Before humans settled here, this land was almost entirely forested. On the mid to lower slopes and alluvial valley floors, lofty tōtara, matai and kahikatea (podocarps) towered over understories of hardwood trees and shrubs, climbers, tree ferns and ground ferns etc. The warmer coastal parts of these forests included frost tender northern species such as nikau, kawakawa and tītoki. The higher altitude forests had native cedar and Hall’s/ thin-barked tōtara emerging above the hardwood tree canopy. In the coolest and wettest uplands of the southeast corner of the Peninsula, red and black beech forests out-competed the podocarp species. The rocky slopes, cliffs and sub-alpine peaks were clothed in stunted forests with diverse shrublands, indigenous herbs and grasses. These forests, and the wetlands and beaches would have been raucous with birdlife, and large flightless birds like the moa, takahē and kiwi were common. Rivers and estuaries teamed with invertebrate and fish, and seabirds nesting on the land were abundant.

 With human arrival, starting c900years ago, a rich history of cultural and economic activity began. However, impacts of human activities accelerated, especially in the last two centuries, resulting in significant ecological and environmental loss. By 1920, the forests were reduced to 1% of original cover, and the loss of woody vegetation caused vulnerable soils to erode and slip, leading to sediment increase in waterways. The loss of habitat as well as the introduction of feral predators and browsers (including rats, cats, mustelids, possums, goats pigs and deer), has caused the loss of many species such as kākā, kākāriki, tītī, piopio, saddleback and tuatara to name a few. And the introduction of weedy plant species also threatens vulnerable indigenous species and habitat type. 

 Now, however, with changing farming practices and values, native woody vegetation on the Peninsula has been steadily increasing, and about 20% of the land is now covered in regenerating forest.

 Remarkably, the Peninsula remains a biodiversity hotspot for Canterbury and Aotearoa at large. There are an astonishing number of locally endemic species, including 7 plant species and many invertebrates such as cicada, wētā, beetles, moths etc. This harks back to the Peninsula’s origins as an island. Some nationally vulnerable species are thriving here too. Very few plant species have been completely lost from the Peninsula, and despite losses the fauna remains very diverse. Several nationally rare lizard species have sizeable populations, and birdlife is diverse due to the range of habitats - bush, freshwater and coastal. That so many of the original native plants and animals have survived is due to the sheer size of the Peninsula, its varied topography (from damp nooks and crannies to dry rocky outcrops) and the forethought of some landowners who set aside and continue to protect small areas of original forest.

 Te Pātaka o Rākaihautū/ Banks Peninsula is uniquely placed geographically and ecologically as a biodiversity hotspot, a seeding node, and a storehouse of carbon for Christchurch and the wider Canterbury area.     

Our Office

Office: 752 Christchurch Akaroa Highway,
Tai Tapu 

Postal Address: P O Box 146, Tai Tapu, 7645, Christchurch, NZ 

Email: enquiries@bpct.org.nz 

Phone: +64 (03) 3296340

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