Introduction

Read an overview of the topics the Northland Conservation Board discussed in February 2012.

Date:  21 February 2012

Read an overview of the topics the Northland Conservation Board discussed in February 2012.

Pukenui Forest Trust

Northland’s forests, rivers, and coastline are not only the home of precious natural assets. Unsung community volunteers also often frequent them. These volunteers are fighting enormous odds to preserve the region’s conservation treasures for future generations.

Standing tall among them is the Pukenui Forest Trust. Many of the Trust’s members are pensioners. Their dedication shows as they carry heavy backpacks of poison or pest traps through formidable bush slopes on the doorstep of the city of Whangarei.

The Trust, led by Chair Gerry Brackenbury, presented the Northland Conservation Board with an update on its work. Board Chair Mita Harris said the Pukenui volunteers were a “shining example of community service to conservation’’ among the many people in Northland giving their time and energy to the cause.

The Board heard of the Trust’s aims as part of a community plan to preserve and foster the native plants, animal and bird life in the 1500-hectare Western Hills and Pukenui forest adjoining the Whau Valley water supply near Kamo.

They are intensively managing a 260-hectare area. Long tail bats, tomtits and a few remaining kiwi are among the wildlife in the forest. By poisoning possums, trapping stoats and exterminating goats the volunteers aim to protect and rejuvenate the remaining asset, which is one of Northland’s finest patches of native bush and wildlife.

Gerry Brackenbury said that since 200 goats were shot in the forest the regeneration of large native trees has been “amazing’’, with hundreds of small plants emerging. 75 stoat traps are being positioned with more planned, meaning volunteers have to walk 36 kilometres through the forest to bait the traps. The Trust is seeking funding for more traps.

The forest is on rugged terrain, and carrying the boxed stainless steel traps or backpacks of pellets to poison opossums is heavy, exhausting work. More volunteers are sought by the Trust.

The Trust refers to the 260 hectares as the `Ark in The Park’ – one part of the forest that they will ring fence with traps to try to stop pests entering, as well as to catch the resident pests. The challenges of keeping all pests out, given the proximity to the city, are large. Dogs and feral cats are part of the problem, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) is leading an education programme to reverse the devastating impact dogs have on kiwi populations. Only one or two kiwi are believed to have survived in the Pukenui Forest, and DOC will wait for two years of stoat trapping to pass before considering reintroducing kiwi.

On behalf of the Board, Mr Harris commended the Pukenui Forest Trust for its work, and said it was a great example of the volunteers making an outstanding contribution to conservation in the region. He said the opportunity to meet with volunteers and others during the public forum section of the Board meeting was very valuable and he encouraged submissions from others including people who use conservation land for recreation.

Freedom camping

The Board received a presentation on the implications of the Freedom Camping Act 2011 for reserves in Northland from Lynnell Greer, Technical Support Officer, Recreation Planning, for the DOC Northland Conservancy.

The Board was consulted by DOC as required by legislation, in regards to restricting or prohibiting freedom camping at sites throughout Northland.

Lynnell Greer presented a map to the Board which showed 73 sites from Cape Reinga down the east coast to Mangawhai Wildlife Refuge where it is proposed to prohibit freedom camping. Of these sites, camping is currently prohibited at 68 sites through bylaws.

The Board discussed implications for environmental management, including waterways, and cultural sensitivities. It formed a working group to consider the proposed prohibitions.

The Board also discussed the possibility of restricting rather than prohibiting freedom camping in some locations where self-contained motor homes could be permitted to stay because they did not pose any environmental hazard through waste disposal. Restrictions can also be imposed (rather than prohibition) around the times of day freedom camping is permitted.

Lynnell Greer will report back to the Board in May 2012 after deliberation with the Working Group.

Conservation Management Strategy

A priority for the Northland Conservation Board in 2012 is engagement with the public on the region’s Conservation Management Strategy (CMS).

The strategy is currently under review and will be released for public comment during the year, when people in Northland will be asked how they want to see the region’s places, habitats, biodiversity, ecosystems, and historic sites managed for the next decade and further into the future.

The Board heard that the expected timeframe for public submissions is October/November 2012, after the Conservancy completes its draft Plan and makes it publicly available.

Board members asked DOC to include reference to mining and more emphasis to marine conservation in the strategy document, as they believed they would or could be significant issues in the decade ahead.   

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