History of the Reserve

The History of the Reserve

Prior to the great flood of 1868 the Silverstream catchment lay within an active north branch of the braided Waimakariri River floodplain. The site of the current reserve was classified for river conservation purposes at that time. The great flood of 1868 sealed off the entrance to the north branch with huge deposits of transported alluvium, and man-made stop banks were subsequently built along the river to prevent further flooding.

Since those natural and human induced changes altered the Waimakariri River’s course much of the productive land in the old, dried up north arm was developed for farming and settlement. The spring-fed residual waterway became known as Silverstream, a tributary of the Kaiapoi River. The stream still retains a meandering course and has been spared the straightening and modification applied to many Canterbury Plains waterways; although many years of drag-lining to routinely remove aquatic weed growth and maintain land drainage has modified the original stream bed profile to a fairly uniform depth and contour.

In 1967 the bulk of the reserve area was reclassified as a reserve for a fish hatchery and game farm, under the management of the North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society.

The North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society was formed on 25 April 1864 by a group of prominent Christchurch gentlemen to accomplish the acclimatisation of useful animals, fishes and birds, including the introduction of ‘innoxious animals … whether useful or ornamental’, as game, but not to act as a zoological society. Between 1867 and 1880 six shipments of birds were brought to Canterbury from England, hares and rabbits were established throughout the Canterbury Plains and trout were released into Canterbury rivers, from the Society’s hatchery ponds and grounds established in a corner of Hagley Park by A.M. Johnson, the Society’s curator.

Acclimatisation societies were established in New Zealand by European colonists from the 1860s. In 1867 the first of a series of Animal Protection Acts was passed to provide protection to many of the introduced animals and formally recognised the Acclimation Societies in New Zealand. Later that year the importation of Trout and Salmon was enabled by the passing of the Trout and Salmon Act. The Canterbury acclimatisation society was known for some more unusual introductions including the African Lion. Not only did they import animals, but they also exported them. There’s at least one account in 1872 of a shipment of 1000 tui, wax-eyes and parroquets from New Zealand to England (and a return shipment of English birds to this country). Some of the birds introduced to New Zealand included the chukor (an Indian game bird), the magpie, the laughing jackass, Virginian quail, Canadian geese, Teneriffe grouse, chickens from Kansas, swans, sparrows and German owls.

Acclimatisation societies received some financial assistance from government, for example £150 from the provincial government of Canterbury in 1867. By the 1890s acclimatisation societies focused on species for hunting and fishing, such as deer, game birds, trout and salmon. They managed stocks, set hunting seasons and licensed hunters and anglers. Deer came under government control in 1930 after their numbers grew hugely and they became a pest. It was thought that waterways had to be continually restocked with fish, so resources were poured into trout hatcheries and trout were released in many streams and lakes, even after wild populations had become established.

In the 1930s, scientist Derisley Hobbs’s studies of trout reproduction showed that hatchery releases were a waste of money, as natural spawning produced more juveniles than needed in most rivers. The Nelson society ceased hatchery operations in 1946 – but many other societies ignored Hobbs’s findings. Anglers who couldn’t catch fish blamed it on a lack of stocking rather than their lack of skill. Stocking continued, despite the expense. It was only in the 1980s that most societies accepted the wisdom of Hobbs’s studies from half a century earlier.

From the 1950s, societies became concerned about the effects of land use on game-bird and sports-fish populations. Wetlands were being drained for farming, water taken from rivers for irrigation, and rivers dammed. Acclimatisation societies became increasingly involved in working to protect these habitats. In 1990 acclimatisation societies became regional fish and game councils – collectively, Fish and Game New Zealand.

A fish hatchery was developed on Crown-owned reserve land, legal title RS 42293, located alongside the stream and sandwiched between the western and eastern sectors of Silverstream Reserve. The hatchery was originally opened by the North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society in 1964 to artificially induce a return run of mature, adult quinnat salmon.

The NZ Government decided to embark on a major development of the sea-run quinnat salmon resource in 1975, and the hatchery at Silverstream was purchased by the then Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a pilot source of salmon for the project. From 1976 part of the salmon production at the hatchery was allocated to commercial salmon-farming ventures that were then beginning in the South Island. The hatchery was subsequently managed by the Crown-owned National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), until it was sold in 2008.

Schedule 3 special condition 2 of the land leasehold agreement between the Minister of Conservation (the lessor) and the NIWA (the concessionaire, or lessee) states that “The Lessor shall be entitled, after consultation with the Concessionaire, to provide or authorise the provision of, a public access way and associated facilities (pedestrian walking track) along the Kaiapoi River through the area as defined in Schedule One, clause 1”.

The hatchery is still present and the land is leased to a private organisation that raises and sells fertilised salmon eggs and salmon smolt on a commercial basis to salmon farmers and recreational groups around New Zealand.

In the mid-1980s, a walkway proposal was presented to local landowners and administering authorities by the Canterbury Walkways Committee. The route was to begin in Kaiapoi, follow the Kaiapoi River upstream and pass through the current Silverstream Reserve area. With issues over land access, this ambitious project was never realised.

In 1989, significant parcels of crown reserve land bordering the stream were formally reclassified as Recreation Reserve and vested in Rangiora District Council for recreational purposes. The Rangiora District Council was amalgamated with other local authorities around this time to form Waimakariri District Council. A portion of this land linked with a sizeable reserve area already under local authority administration; was designated for plantation purposes in 1967, after earlier classification as a gravel pit site. In combination, these land parcels form the bulk of what is now Silverstream Reserve.

Since 1989, the Silverstream Reserve land has been predominantly managed through Council grazing leases. In 2006, a Council proposal to plant up a large area of the reserve as plantation forest was not publicly supported. Later that year, administration of the reserve passed to the Council’s Parks and Recreation Unit for management as a public recreation area, and a community group was established to advise Council on how the reserve should be developed.