Ashburton District Council has agreed to covenanting land at Ashton Beach and will proceed with an application to the Department of Conservation (DOC) for a Wildlife Act Authority, which, if successful, could pave the way for the establishment of a dedicated area for recreational motorbike riding.
The Ashton Beach area contains important native plant species, some of which have a conservation status. Southern grass skinks have also been identified.
DOC advised council the Wildlife Act Authority is likely to be declined without a commitment to protect alternative areas for conservation purposes on the beach. A proposed solution is the covenanting of adjoining land for no net loss of lizard values over the project area.
Council has undertaken a lizard survey to compare skink numbers at two sites – the proposed motorbike park site and a potential covenant area on the south western side of Lower Beach Road.
The survey identified 81 skinks over a four-day period last November and concluded that skink capture numbers were higher in the proposed bike park area (8672m2) than in the proposed covenant area (9492m2).
Subsequent discussions between DOC and council representatives confirmed the application is more likely to be approved should the proposed covenanted area be enlarged to encompass an area on the eastern side of the proposed motorbike park (3300m2).
To date council has incurred a total of $18,515 on approvals and project management costs associated with the project. An estimated additional $7000 will be needed to complete the approvals process.
Council has budgeted funds up to a maximum of $27,000 for the biodiversity requirements of the project and will continue to work with the Ashburton Motorbike Club if the green light is given.
Councillor Lynette Lovett, speaking on the decision last week, said proceeding with the project was the right decision.
“We don’t want to lose this opportunity.”
She said it offered a chance to tidy up the beach area, provided a defined area for motorcyclists and meant more planting and public tracks.
Councillor Leen Braam said council had worked hard to start the journey and it was important to continue it.
-By Mick Jensen