Funding provides green light for plans to bring native birds and butterflies back to Rāwhiti

Plans for a community environmental enhancement project, initiated by neighbours of a Canterbury reserve and gaining momentum for the past five years, received the green light this week under a $580,000 grant from the government’s Shovel Ready Projects funding.

Guardians of Rāwhiti Domain chairperson Cathy Baker has been working since 2015 to create an inspiring vision for a 1.7 hectare section of Rāwhiti Domain on the east side of Christchurch. Designated in the Rāwhiti Domain Management Plan of 2007 as a natural play area for children, the area incorporates a 100 year old monarch butterfly habitat. Plans include a native bird habitat nourished by nectar gardens.

Cathy is delighted that the funding will turn the vision into reality.

“For decades Rāwhiti Domain was home to native birds, native and monarch butterflies, and bees. Although monarch butterflies have wintered over in the Domain for more than a century, their numbers declined markedly after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, which hit the east badly. Even more disturbing, the native birds took off and didn’t return after their food source disappeared with the demolition of 6000 local homes and gardens.

“Guardians of Rāwhiti Domain was established to remedy this situation in 2015. Our goal is to bring native species back, while incorporating a natural woodland play space with an education centre emphasising the ecology of the domain and the Canterbury coast.

“Our plans have been ready to go for awhile, and we have explored several potential funding options. Using the Shovel Ready Projects fund will enable us to proceed, creating a peaceful natural amenity for the reserve that will be cherished by locals and visitors alike,” she said.

Local schools have participated in planting days and growing swan plants to feed the monarch butterflies. Including specific access features in the plans means children and others with disabilities will be able to fully enjoy the woodland play space, says Cathy Baker.

“Throughout the Christchurch rebuild the community in the east, and particularly our local young people, have been largely ignored. They went through significant trauma and many of the repercussions continue rising to the surface, including high anxiety, anger and panic attacks, which have been especially noticeable at schools. Last year’s terrorist attack, and then the Covid lockdown this year, further exacerbated anxiety.

“We are motivated to develop a natural healing environment for our Tamariki, where they can engage with nature while having fun and facing physical challenges. Our aim is to help reduce anxiety and assist them to heal, linking children to the conservation of the ecology and ecosystems of Rāwhiti Domain and the Canterbury coastal environment,” she says.

Native birds, including kereru, poapapa (bellbird), tui, whakaawe (waxeye), ruru (morepork), piwakawaka (fantail), riroriro (grey warbler), whaikorero (kingfisher) and tīeke (South Island saddleback) have historically inhabited Rāwhiti Domain, though recent sightings have become scarce. Guardians of Rāwhiti Domain will plant species providing food for these native birds, plus butterflies, bees, other insects, and fungi.

Guardians of Rāwhiti Domain is part of Eastern Community Sports and Recreation Incorporated (ECSR), an umbrella organisation for key New Brighton sports and recreation clubs. Government funding of $7 million was granted to several local initiatives this week, including $3.215 million to projects initiated by ECSR and its members.

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