Peter Etheridge is passionate about wildlife. So much so that when this summer's drought threatened to shut down the creek flowing through his 12ha property, he knew he had to act.
The deer farmer, who lives 7km outside Ashburton, teamed up with neighbouring farmers to keep Green Street's Spring Creek alive.
It was a tough ask. Irrigating farmers in the area were already on a 100 per cent water restriction so no water could be taken from the Ashburton River which feeds the creek. However, by negotiating with the local regional council, Environment Canterbury, Etheridge and his neighbours were able to get a small amount of water released purely for environmental purposes.
Without their intervention, Green Street's Spring Creek would have run dry, fish and invertebrate life would have been decimated and the creek's habitat might have taken years to recover. Etheridge says his actions -- supported by the Green Street Irrigators -- are simply part and parcel of being a farmer. "You couldn't farm if you weren't looking after the environment," he says.
Etheridge and wife Lois' property, Oakridge, is a haven of green in the parched Canterbury Plains. Over the past decade the couple have worked tirelessly to turn 2ha of forming cropping land into an oasis for wildlife. Today Oakridge boasts dozens of native and exotic fish and birds within its artificial wetlands. A tame paradise duck trails Etheridge as he wanders around two substantial ponds stocked with trout and ducks, geese, swans and smaller avian species are regular sights in the lush garden the couple created from scratch around their home.
Etheridge first saw the creek dry up 10 years ago when drought struck the area and the spring-fed waterway succumbed. The Etheridges hadn't long been at Oakridge and they worked day and night to preserve what they could. the fishery. "I spent two or three nights catching 134 fish out of the creek and putting them into the Ashburton River at night -- trout, koru and cockabullies."
When the latest dry spell started after Christmas, Etheridge was adamant he wasn't going to repeat that experience. "I knew it was going to happen again and I couldn't let it; it's my favourite creek."
Green Street's Spring Creek starts from a spring 10km north of Ashburton and flows between the north and south branches of the Ashburton River. Carrying irrigation water for 20 members of the Green Street Irrigators group, the creek meanders through several rural properties, as well as Etheridge 's.
Lyndon Webb, also a member of the group, offered to talk to Environment Canterbury to see whether the irrigators' infrastructure could be used to save the creek. The Ashburton zone committee threw their weight behind the idea, as did Fish&Game. "It was more effective for them to give us permission to access water rather than try to electric-fish the creek," Webb says.
After initial reservations, the regional council agreed that 60 litres a second could be released as long as it wasn't diverted for irrigation. This solution has maintained a small flow most of summer despite the drought.
Etheridge is thrilled with the outcome as he never wants to see a dry creek again. "Ten years ago the creek was technically dead for a year until I restocked it with koru and cockabullies.
"I put the native fish back in and the trout came back themselves. This creek has been a trout fishery for children for many years. I used to ride out here from town when I was a kid and catch them. In all it probably took at least two to three years to recover, for all the life under the sticks and stones to come back," Etheridge says.
Lyndon says irrigating farmers in the area are happy their infrastructure has been used to protect the health of the creek, despite not benefiting from the water themselves. "We can't irrigate from the water in the creek but at least it will protect the creek's ecosystem until we get some decent rain again."