Wananga landing Wananga landing

UC tackles plastic waste in rare bird breeding spot

19 July 2023

More than 100kg of rubbish has been removed from a popular site for endangered birds, thanks to Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) staff.


Approximately 20 volunteers joined a clean-up day at Te Rauakaaka Nature Reserve in Brooklands last week. The event was organised by UC and Environment Canterbury to contribute to Plastic Free July 2023.

A popular recreation spot and breeding area for endangered bird species like the Australian bittern (matuku-hūrepo), the nature reserve gets a lot of rubbish build-up and due to the proximity of the area to waterways, there is a high risk of plastic waste transferring to the ocean. 

UC Kairuruku Toitū | Sustainability Engagement Coordinator Chloe Sutton says the clean-up was a big success. “I love seeing everybody come together over a shared purpose and do some really satisfying mahi. It was really nice to see so many colleagues jump at the opportunity to do something good for their community and I am looking forward to further collaboration opportunities with Environment Canterbury.”

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 - Climate Action. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 - Climate Action.

Environment Canterbury’s Regional Biodiversity Officer Brad Smith, a UC alum who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences, says the Te Rauakaaka area was an exotic grassland prior to the Canterbury earthquakes, which caused the ground level to subside significantly. As a result, tide waters have come further inland, changing the ecosystem.

“Over the last 10 years, it naturally reverted to a wetland and became a pretty significant breeding area for endangered bird species, including the Australian bittern.

“There are less than 1000 Australian bitterns in New Zealand,” he says. “The marsh crake (koitareke) and white heron (kōtuku) are also often sighted in the Nature Reserve.

“The day was awesome. It’s always good to see people give some of their time for a good cause. We’ve tidied it all up beautifully,” Smith says.

The team collected a total of 102kg of rubbish, including plastic plant guards previously used for restoration planting, and over 20kg of recycling.

“The plastic plant guards were originally installed to increase the success rate of the young plants. Unfortunately, they were the only choice we had [at that time], but we are now using environmentally friendly biodegradable guards,” Smith says.

“The plastic guards need to be removed after a few years and these were well overdue to come off, so it ties in quite nicely with Plastic Free July to remove these from the Nature Reserve. The native planting area just needed some final attention and now is set to look after itself.”

The collaboration between UC and Environment Canterbury comes after the organisations signed a memorandum of understanding in May this year, solidifying their commitment to the environment. 

As part of UC’s 150th anniversary celebrations, staff have the opportunity to take a Volunteer Day at any time throughout 2023 to support a cause they are passionate about, including the rubbish cleanup in Te Rauakaaka.

Find out more about Plastic Free July at UC.

Clean-up day
Clean-up day
Clean-up day
Clean-up day
Clean-up day

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