Up to 80 per cent of the material in a massive illegal dump in native bush near Russell is recycling which could have been taken free to a nearby transfer station, those working to clean up the mess say.

The dump has been sitting in the bush at Ngaiotonga Scenic Reserve since at least the start of the year, with the clean-up crew saying the job was heartbreaking. Containing burnt out cars, appliances, plastic and household rubbish, it was reported in January by a horrified tourist.

"I'm a big nature fan and to see all that rubbish put down there when most of it could've been recycled, it does break my heart a bit," said contractor William Lloyd. "I'm a Far Northerner and to see our land like this, it is terrible."

Far North Roading, contracted by Far North District Council, started the clean up on Monday. The council put the long delay down to health and safety concerns at the steep site, about 20km from Russell on Russell Rd.


"We have also needed a window of dry weather," a FNDC spokesman said.

Mr Lloyd said 60 to 80 per cent of the material would be recyclables like glass bottles and aluminium cans. "That's almost the worst part," he said.

FNDC technical officer Allen Cammell said $14,000 had been allocated for an initial clean-up trial, and if the technique used was cost effective, it will be used at other remote and steep sites.

The technique was normally used to winch logs from steep ravines. Contractors haul smaller items into large sacks, which are craned out and trucked to the Russell transfer station. Larger items, like cars and appliances, will be hauled out individually.

Workers wore sharp-proof clothing, including protective leggings, boots and gloves.

"The gentlemen we have here are very experienced tree planters, so this terrain is their normal workplace," Mr Cammell said.

Nearby farmer Sean Walker had been lobbying the council over the dump and said he was pleased to hear work was starting.

At the start of the year, six people were fined $100 each, due to evidence found in the trash which linked them to it. Contractors were looking for more such evidence.