An environmental leader has told a local council off for not doing enough to protect dotterel nesting grounds from quad bikers who were “giving the finger” to the public.
Forest and Bird Eastern Bay chairwoman Linda Conning reminded Ōpōtiki District Council of its responsibility to enforce its own beach bylaw, which quad bikers have been flouting at Ōhiwa Spit.
Conning addressed the council during the public forum at the start of its meeting on Wednesday.
The council made the dotterel nesting area at the end of Ōhiwa Harbour Road to be a restricted area for vehicles in 2021. It is also popular with many local surfcasters, who, for a variety of reasons, choose to use quad bikes to reach their favourite fishing spots.
Steps taken by council staff at the beginning of this summer to prevent access to the beach by vehicles have been stymied, with culprits going to extreme lengths to remove 1.5 tonne concrete blocks, reinforced by railway sleeper iron stakes.
Residents have told Local Democracy Reporting that council signs telling people not to ride on the beach have been ripped out this summer. Rules have been ignored and new tracks through the dunes have been created by damaging vegetation and even chopping down pōhutukawa trees.
Conning responded to a quip made by Councillor Barry Howe at a meeting in December that the dotterels could find somewhere else to nest by saying, “there is nowhere else for them to go”.
“We humans have developed most of the coast and now we are disturbing them in their last refuges.”
She pointed out the council’s responsibilities under the Resource Management Act for the maintenance of indigenous biodiversity and noted that the distubance of wildlife was a serious offence under the Wildlife Act, with fines of up to $100,000 and up to two years’ imprisonment.
She said it was a widely held fallacy that beaches are roads and therefore can be driven on.
“The facts are that the road rules apply on beaches but access onto beaches is regulated through rules in district plans and bylaws.
“Some people are openly flouting the rules, and to coin a phrase, giving the finger to the council and the community.”
Conning said security cameras, such as those that were put in place when the beach area was first restricted two years ago, were needed to record what was happening at some of the beach accessways, especially at Ōhiwa Beach, and that Forest and Bird was willing to contribute financially to this.
“In our country, there is no right to roam by vehicles and it is only since the import of cheap SUVs in the 1990s that vehicle use on beaches has become a problem. The council has a responsibility to follow through on its rules and bylaws and enforce them.”
Mayor David Moore thanked Conning for her presentation.
“I’m sure you are aware that we have some issues around our whole district regarding policing. We’re about a dozen members short in our local police force, and there’s a few bad people out there. Education is always a good thing.”
By Diane McCarthy for Local Democracy Reporting
LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.