Long Gully reserve comes to fruition

To ensure they get the best view of the new Matu scientific reserve, near Wanaka, visitors are advised to get down on their hands and knees.

That way, there is the chance of spotting an extremely rare Pericoptis frontalis (scarab beetle) or a Hexathele petriei (tunnel web spider).

From a distance, the 165ha scientific reserve could easily appear to be nothing more than a barren piece of wasteland.

But Dunedin-based Department of Conservation partnership ranger, biologist John Barkla, told the Otago Daily Times this week the reserve contains many of the plants and insects common throughout the Upper Clutha before the arrival of agriculture.

''There's a really interesting array of both plants and animals which don't immediately strike you. But get down on your hands and knees and you start to see the diversity.''

The reserve is at Long Gully, and lies between the Wanaka-Tarras road and the Clutha River, opposite Jolly Rd.

Mr Barkla said the value of the area was first noted in 1984-85 during a programme that identified the best remaining examples of indigenous vegetation in districts throughout New Zealand.

''That was kind of the starting point to our recognition that there was something special here.''

The reserve contains native wasps including one that hunts tunnel web spiders.

There are also species of native bees, grasshoppers, cicadas, moths and butterflies, and birds such as banded dotterel and pipits had been recorded breeding there.

Mr Barkla said the land had been ''under threat'' because the holder of the pastoral lease wanted to install pivot irrigators.

''He saw the future for it being in farming.''

However, during the recently completed tenure review, the land had become public conservation land.

''We were successful in persuading Land Information New Zealand, which manages those leases, that it actually had higher values for conservation.''

Mr Barkla said the land had ''dry terrace'' herbs, grasses, cushion plants and low shrubs that were characteristic of the Upper Clutha in the past and were now relatively uncommon.

Two herbs growing in the reserve were considered to be ''threatened''.

''We regard the Long Gully Terraces there as probably the largest and most intact example of that semi-arid cushion terrace vegetation in the Clutha Valley.''

Mr Barkla said the reserve had some weeds, such as briar and wilding pine, and rabbits.

''Rabbits are a bit of a double-edged sword.

''At moderate levels they can keep the lid on weedy shrub species and grasses but if you get too many they start to eat everything.''

Mr Barkla said the cushion plants were quite hardy, although users of the river-access track running through the reserve are requested not to drive on the reserve.

''For a lot of people, they are going to see it as maybe an open public space with access to the river - a place where they can go wandering and enjoy nature on its own terms.

''You will see vineyards and agricultural developments going on around it, but it will at least be an area of 165ha which will be managed for nature.

''As time goes on, I think people will value that more and more.''

- mark.price@odt.co.nz