|Our Environment: Issue 14 Autumn 1998|
About 2000 hectares of grassland in the north west of Christchurch has been earmarked for a unique conservation and recreation park.
The proposed park on the Waimakariri River flood plain is considered an ideal site to restore grasslands, shrublands and woodlands which once grew over large areas of the Canterbury Plains. Plans include the development of a "savannah" beside Orana Park, suitable for grazing small herds of African animals as part of an international species survival programme.
Lying south of McLeans Island Rd, west of Christchurch Airport and north of the Old West Rd, the grassland park has been approved in principle by a joint Christchurch City and Canterbury Regional Council committee.
Detailed costings and design work now need to be completed in close consultation with the Regional Council, their lessees and affected landowners. Most of the land, located in the Rural 6 Zone, is vested with the Regional Council which leases it mainly for farming.
Most of the leases come up for renewal in 2002. However, continuation of extensive pastoral farming would be encouraged as a compatible use of the land. Any leases would only be acquired by the City Council from willing sellers at market rates.
Because of its stony and flood-prone nature, most of the land has not been intensively farmed and is unsuitable for residential development. The lack of intensive development also means the area has maintained the open vistas and landscapes typical of the Canterbury Plains before European settlement.
The area already supports a large number of nationally unique dry grassland ecological communities which would be protected. Other main benefits of the proposed park include:
The park would provide a network of tracks ideally suited for walking, mountain biking and horse trekking, with uninterrupted views to the Southern Alps and Banks Peninsula.
Five sites on the perimeter of the park have been selected to be developed with small carparks and information/interpretation kiosks. These sites would provide the key access points for visitors.
The future of the land is currently being reviewed as part of the Christchurch City Plan process. Development would be
staged with highest priority areas protected and enhanced first. These include ecological heritage sites, areas where dry forest and shrubland plantings are to occur and limited routes for public access.
Stage two, occurring over 20 years, involves development of the Orana Park savannah, a more comprehensive network of tracks and plantings, and integration of farming activities, subject to the agreement of land owners.
The cost of developing the park is still being investigated. Funding sources likely to be explored include local authorities, the Department of Conservation, community funding agencies and corporate sponsorship.
Assistant Planner, Conservation
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