Volunteers at wits end over bird abuse

Reg Whale appeals to the public to give the endangered New Zealand dotterel space.

Volunteers desperately trying to save endangered native birds at Te Arai beach have threatened to quit following a spate of attacks on birds and abuse from the public.

Volunteer and vice president of the Te Arai Beach Preservation Society, Reg Whale, says in recent weeks taped off sand dunes designed to protect nesting dotterels have been violated by people charging through the areas on motorcycles, quad bikes and horseback.

Volunteer Sioux Plowman, who tried to remonstrate with horseback riders allowing their dogs to run wild on the beach, was met with indifference. Mr Whale has spent the last 14 years protecting birds at the beach and spends three to four hours a day setting and maintaining traps to eliminate bird predators.

“You have got to ask yourself what are you doing? What are you achieving when you get this type of reaction from people who don’t really care?” he says.

He says vehicles and animals trampling through taped off areas crush nests and eggs, and trample chicks. Even apparently benign behaviours such as fishing close to a dotterel nest can cause havoc with sensitive birds.

The frightened mother will fly off leaving her eggs exposed, which then become too hot in the sun or too cold.

Exposed eggs either kill chicks immediately or lead to weakened chicks unable to feed properly and vulnerable to predators.

In addition to poor behaviour by beach users, Mr Whale blames the Department of Conservation and Auckland Council for failing to police beaches adequately and for allowing developers to get away with developments that flout Council rules and Environment Court decisions, and pose further threats to native bird life.

He says unsympathetic people are inclined to say, “If the developers can do what they want, then why the heck shouldn’t we do what we want.”

One bone of contention is the construction of a modified weir on Te Arai stream by developer TANL without an appropriate resource consent from Auckland Council. Environmentalists say the heightened weir has the potential to impede the passage of fish and adversely affect fish spawning habitats. This in turn negatively impacts birds such as the dotterel, Caspian terns, variable oystercatchers, fairy terns and pied stilts, which feed on the fish.

The New Zealand fairy tern, with a total known population of just 35 to 40 birds, risks being completely wiped out.

Department of Conservation community ranger for Te Arai Roy Hyslop says DOC will bolster community awareness campaigns and boost policing in response to Mr Whale’s concerns, particularly on sunny days when the beach is a popular spot.      

“Council park rangers, DOC rangers, police and security will be patrolling on a regular basis,” he says.

He adds police will prosecute repeat trespassers. All private vehicles, including quads, motorbikes and cars, are prohibited from the full length of Te Arai beach. Mr Hyslop urged responsible park users who see dogs on the beaches or dunes or unauthorised vehicles to phone Council on 09 301 0101.

Meanwhile, Council compliance and resource consents manager Steve Pearce says TANL has applied for a retrospective consent that would see a reduction in the height of the controversial weir on Te Arai Stream.  

Council is currently assessing this proposal. Previously Council issued an abatement notice requiring removal of the weir and fined TANL $750 for failing to do so.


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