Illegal squatting, hazardous driving and the death of their beloved cat have left one Far North couple at their wit's end due to ongoing illegal activity at a nearby reserve.
Lois Stather-Dunn and Reginald Payne have been left distraught and disillusioned after their cat, Diablo, was struck and killed by a motorbike riding illegally through Kaitaia's Parkdale Reserve earlier this year.
The couple said the death of their much-loved fur baby had been just one of countless incidents of illegal activity at the reserve in recent years.
The couple claim they'd seen everything from illegal rubbish dumping to cars driving through the reserve, to near misses with residents walking through the area.
Yet despite their best efforts to report the bad behaviour, neither police nor Far North District Council had allegedly been able to prevent the activity from continuing.
"When we first moved here, we noticed the occasional motor vehicle drive along the riverbank looking for their lost children," Payne said.
"At the time we raised no complaints because we were new to the community and did not wish to upset the customary rights of the locals.
"At sporadic times some locals would drive their motorbikes, mostly families trying out a new purchase of a quad bike, along the reserve.
"We were surprised the wearing of protective equipment (helmets) was not observed and on a lot of occasions very young children were balanced on the fuel tanks."
Payne explained back in early 2020 while walking his dogs, he'd noticed a utility vehicle driving along the riverbank from the direction of the road bridge near Allen Bell Drive.
He said the rear cargo bay was piled high with materials.
He said he signalled the driver to inquire about where he was going with this load.
"The driver explained he was not "dumping rubbish" and then proceeded to the rear of Parkdale Cres, which adjoins the reserve as our does house."
According to Payne, during the first construction of the flood relief channel and development of the Allen Bell Drive subdivision, a small nature reserve of native trees had been left on the riverbank to the rear of Parkdale Cres.
As a result, the nature reserve had become a "screen of bushes" behind which he claimed a small settlement had established itself, hidden away from view.
He said he'd reported the illegal settlement to both FNDC and the local police back in 2020, but action to remove the squatters had been slow and ineffective long term.
"The police informed me at a later date they only acted to a request from the landowner, which in this case was FNDC," Payne claimed.
"FNDC eventually informed me they expected the police to respond and inform them of any action required."
Over the next 18 months, Payne explained he had escalated his complaints, writing to everyone from Far North Mayor John Carter, local iwi and even the Police Commissioner.
He said at that point, the local police commander did visit and promised action to remove the unofficial campsite, yet motorbikes continued to drive along the riverbank.
The couple explained it was only the construction of the new floodbanks that had somewhat reduced the practice.
"The illegal and dangerous activity continues and is endangering members of the public, including children, the elderly, and their pets, and also council employees who have a duty to mow and maintain the reserve," Stather-Dunn said.
"We feel a simple solution would be the installation of gates at entrance points around the reserve.
"Erection of notices at these entrances informing those ignorant of them of the bylaws which forbid this activity would also be good.
"We know this not to be beyond the wit of the council as demonstrated by the gates recently installed at the Rainbow Falls Reserve in Kerikeri."
FNDC has been consulting on a new Parks and Reserves Bylaw to provide further enforcement options to deal with issues such as motorbikes being used in parks and reserves.
The proposed new bylaw will impose restrictions on the use of vehicles in parks and reserves, with submissions closing last Friday.
FNDC environmental services manager Rochelle Deane said the behaviour at Parkdale Reserve was not an isolated case, with similar issues reported in the past at other district parks and reserves.
Deane said while the council had installed fences and other barriers to discourage vehicle access, this had often proved ineffective against trail bikes and resulted in undesirable consequences.
"The unintended consequences [of fences] have reduced access for other reserve users, particularly wheelchair access," Deane said.
"The preferred approach now is therefore to work with police to find a solution.
"Issues like dangerous driving are covered by legislation such as the Land Transport Act, which is enforced by the police, and the use of motor vehicles in public spaces covered by this legislation."
Deane said any residents concerned about antisocial and illegal activity should immediately report it to the police.
NZ Police said penalties for illegal driving in parks and reserves varied and were assessed on case by case, dependent on identified offences.
An NZ Police spokesperson said they wanted to reassure the community, however, they took this type of offending seriously and worked hard to identify and locate offenders.
"We are thankful for information the community provides and encourage people to continue submitting photos and footage of dangerous and inconsiderate driving behaviour as it often assists our investigations," the spokesperson said.
"Anyone with photos, footage or information is asked to contact police via our 105 phone service or online at: www.police.govt.nz/use-105.
"You can also contact Crimes Stoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or if it's happening now, please call 111.'