The Council has expressed disappointment at a Department of Conservation decision that will scuttle plans to create a designated recreational motorcycle park at Ashton Beach – but it still hopes to work with the parties to find a way to improve the area.
Ashton Beach has traditionally been an informal place for motorcycling, but the area is also shared with the southern grass skink, which is in decline around New Zealand despite all the native lizards and their habitat protected by the wildlife law.
The Council had worked with the Ashburton Motorcycle Club to move the occasional motorcycle from the beach to a more formal track on nearby Council-owned farmland, in the hope that this would improve the health and safety of riders and provide more protections to the local populations of skinks and native birds of the area.
Chief executive Hamish Riach said the area proposed for the new track was agricultural land that could be farmed by law as it was rural area B.
“We were proposing to move recreational motorcyclists from an informal riding area to nearby farmland, and also to agree other nearby areas for permanent protection of wildlife and native species.”
Skinks are present throughout the region and the Council believes that with riding taking place in a more concentrated area and habitat improvements in the conventioned areas, there would be an overall benefit to local skink numbers.
The Council had to seek permission under the Wildlife Act, as the establishment and use of the motorbike park would likely result in the death of some skinks – this was denied by the DOC.
Councilors described the outcome as a lose-lose situation, with the moto still likely to occur informally in the area and no further protection provided for the skink.
Councilors voted to write to the Minister for Conservation and other politicians expressing concern that the decision-making process seemed flawed; external experts were also surprised by the decision and how little weight was given to the plan to permanently protect the skink.
The Council says it is keen to work with DOC, ECan and local iwi to find a way forward.
“We were surprised and a little dismayed by the decision, but we need to look ahead and try to bring all interested parties to the table to find a solution that preserves the habitat of the skinks and improves the safety of the skinks. recreational users of the area,” Mr. Riach said.
Ashton Beach appeared on the Council’s radar in 2019 when officers became aware of a health and safety issue on an unfenced part of the Council’s ocean farm on the beach. A steep area of terrain was used by motorcycle and 4×4 enthusiasts.
These areas have since been fenced off and a new potential alternative riding area was identified during a community consultation in February 2020. A skink survey in May 2020 confirmed the presence of southern grass skinks (Oligosoma Polychroma display) in the proposed motorcycle park area. .