Environment – Spotlight falls on forests

To the immediate west and north of Orewa are large areas of little known regenerating kauri-podocarp forests. They are coming into focus as farming and other rural pursuits within and around them are being superseded by the priorities of a rapidly expanding city.

The Silverdale to Puhoi motorway, opened in 2001, cut a swathe through them. Two of the stream valleys – the Nukumea and the Otanerua – were spanned by viaducts rather than embankments so that they could survive as continuous wildlife corridors. A re-arrangement of property boundaries was made to account for portions of private land that had had access to them cut off by the carriageway. This resulted in an enlarged Nukumea Scenic Reserve in two separated parts administered by the Department of Conservation. Other portions of the forests are privately owned and zoned Rural Conservation under the Unitary Plan, limiting their development. An exception was Hillcrest Road, which has been sub-divided on the far side of the Dali-esque pukeko bridge over the motorway.

All of this has had little consequence for Hibiscus Coast residents as access to the forests was and is restricted; it is generally only possible by crossing private land. (The notable exception is the much-loved Alice Eaves Reserve.) That will need to change. New housing areas, for example at Sunny Heights Road, extend right to the margin of the Nukumea Valley. A 575-lot development is proposed off the western end of Grand Drive, beyond the motorway overpass. The new populations will eye up the Nukumea forests as a playground for adventure. The reserve is not ready for them. An entry right-of-way was not provided off Hillcrest Rd as part of the subdivision there. No routes are in place up the stream valleys and under the eco-viaducts. DoC recognises that visitor facilities will eventually be needed, but its resources are limited. The Rodney and Hibiscus & Bays Local Boards’ boundaries meet at the motorway, but as it loses its role as the western demarcation of the urban area, they will need to work together to both protect this jewel as well as facilitating its recreation possibilities.

Conservation work has been limited. An Orewa Landcare Group was active until the motorway stymied access. DoC has organised some deer shooting and possum trapping, but not lately. Pest control at Alice Eaves extends part-way up the Nukumea Valley on private land and volunteers have started drilling and poisoning scattered wildling pines in the reserve on behalf of DoC.

Council experts recently did a ground survey which, when published in a few months, will much improve our understanding of the forests’ ecology and what needs to be done to protect it. Stopping the entry of the kauri dieback pathogen will likely be a priority.

Development has the downside of gobbling up greenfields land for housing, but the upside is that the special qualities of the natural areas remaining become better recognised. Work can get underway to make them special places.