FMU History and Land Use
The climate of the Awatere FMU is similar to eastern Marlborough and is classed as warm and temperate. It has a moderate supply of moisture, an average temperature of 10.8°C and mean annual rainfall of 500 to 1490 mm. Rainfall is lowest in the coastal area on the south side of the Awatere River, increasing inland and on the north side of the river due to the rain shadow effect of the northern hills. Rainfall is typically greatest in the months of July and August with the least amount of rainfall generally in February.
Geology and soils
Geology in the lower Awatere FMU is dominated by soft mudstones and conglomerates from the late Miocene and Pliocene epochs, which are easily erodible giving the river its typically silty appearance. The higher peaks further up the valley are predominately greywacke with some volcanic intrusions. The major geological feature responsible for the Awatere Valley and its notable straightness is the Awatere Fault, a branch of the Alpine Fault that stretches over 200 kilometres.
Soils in the lower Awatere Valley display a fragmented soil pattern from the active tectonic environment and river downcutting that has resulted in numerous terraces. The soils in this lower area are dominated by former river alluvium with half being shallow and stony. On the southern side of the Awatere River, loess of variable thickness covers the higher elevation river terraces.
Bodies of water
The Awatere River has several major tributaries, as well as many smaller tributaries and streams. The most notable to the north are Castle River, Grey River and Blairich River. To the south are the Tane River, Hodder River and Medway River. Other prominent streams in the lower Awatere Valley include Black Birch Stream and Starborough Creek. There are no large lakes in the catchment, but smaller lakes, such as Lake Jasper and multiple significant wetlands, have been identified throughout the FMU.
Flora and fauna habitats
The upper Awatere provides fish habitats for northern flathead galaxias, koaro, upland bully and longfin eel, as well as brown trout. It also provides a bird habitat for black-fronted terns. The ranges around the valley support some unique alpine plants, including the Marlborough rock daisy, mountain violet, and north pink broom. The lower Awatere also provides fish habitat for Īnanga, common bully, upland bully, giant bully, bluegill bully, torrentfish, longfin eel and shortfin eel and brown trout habitat. The lower region provides a bird habitat for black-fronted tern, black-billed gull, pied oystercatcher, pied stilt, banded dotterel and black-fronted dotterel.
Land use and cover
Prior to human contact, the upper slopes of the FMU would have likely been clad in broad leaf and totara forest; the valley floor with matai and ferns. Later, beech forest would have been present on the hills while the valley forest would have remained largely the same; this would have been approximately around the time of initial Polynesian settlement. At this point there is evidence of rapid forest destruction however the trend was accelerated with the arrival of European settlers from the mid-1800s.
Swift land use change occurred soon afterwards, with large sheep runs being established from 1840. Pastoral farming throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with some cropping. Significant land use change in the wider region commenced again in the 1970s with the establishment of commercial forestry plantations – mainly Pinus Radiata – through the privatisation of the forestry sector at this time. In the Awatere, this was less prevalent and impacted mainly the lower slopes, particularly the Black Birch ranges. More recently, the rapid expansion of viticulture on the lower valley river terraces has again changed the landscape of the area. This has been occurring since the late 1970s.
Nowadays, pastoral farming remains in the Awatere, predominantly in the upper reaches through to the Molesworth station. This property continues to be farmed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is open to the public. The forestry conversion from the 1970s - 1990s has now largely been harvested and replanted into another rotation.
Viticulture was first formally surveyed in the early 2000s by the council as displayed on the graph below. Rapid expansion in the early 2000s saw plantings more than triple in one year, before stalling post the Global Financial Crisis. Conversion of the lower valley to viticulture continues, with significant new plantings within the last five years. There has also been significant investment in terms of infrastructure and buildings, including several private irrigation dams in a range of sizes. The Awatere now accounts for around 30% of total vineyard plantings across Marlborough. More recently, plantings represent a mixture of conversion and replanting of older vines. The most recent 2021 survey has the Awatere planted area at just over 8,200ha. Lifestyle blocks are also a popular land use in this location.
An Awatere FMU map with land use overlay is shown below, further detailing the viticulture uses in the lower catchment areas by the coast compared to the predominantly grassland and dry stock uses further up the catchment area.
The interactive Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) map shows changes in land cover across Marlborough over time. The Awatere broad land cover classes have been summarised for 1996 (inner ring) and 2018 (outer ring) into the chart below. This shows an increase in viticulture area, which we would expect given the timeframe and development discussed above. An increase in forest land cover is also evident, as well as decreases in grassland.
Seddon is the main township in this FMU with the balance area being sparsely populated. It was established following the government purchase of the Starborough estate in 1899 and services the surrounding rural land.
Seddon township continues to be a crucial residential settlement for the area, with over 550 residents at the 2018 census and has a supermarket, cafes, school, and agricultural retail shops. The town houses many vineyard workers and during the repairs to State Highway 1 following the Kaikōura earthquake, housed a number of the roadworkers.
Māori history in the area
The council has an ongoing work stream with local iwi to identify their visions, values, and aspirations for freshwater in the FMU. These will be collated with views from the wider community.