Graham Pearson has spent more than a decade planting native trees in the Castlecliff dunes. And this weekend was no different.

"We've just had a wonderful morning with Aranui school coming and helping us plant about 55 native plants," Pearson said.

"We've taken out the Australian wattle which spreads and covers all the other plants, and we're planting natives instead.

"And they've got all the berries and the flowers that mean we get the skinks and the birds coming into our area down here, in the rear dunes at Castlecliff."

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Graham Pearson of Coast Care in Castlecliff. Photo / Georgie Ormond
Graham Pearson of Coast Care in Castlecliff. Photo / Georgie Ormond

The vast expanse of land at Castlecliff hasn't been there for long. The dunes were created when large volumes of drifting sand was trapped by moles built to keep the river mouth clear for shipping vessels.

Showing an aerial photo of Castlecliff, Pearson points out the unintentional reclamation over the decades.

"With the moles, I tell the kids it's like me putting my arm out into the sea and catching all the sand," Pearson said. "And these coloured lines are the years of high tide mark."

"The house here would have been in the sea" he said, pointing to a house two rows back from the beach.

The aerial photograph showing how much the dunes have grown. Photo / Georgie Ormond
The aerial photograph showing how much the dunes have grown. Photo / Georgie Ormond

"In 1925, you could take your deck chair out here and paddle your toes. In 1945, when I was born, it was way back, and now the kids have to walk out even further to paddle their toes."

The shoreline here has grown by 2m a year since the early 1900s.

As well as attracting birds and native wildlife, planting the dunes also stabilises them, preventing the sand from clogging the roads and drains.

But not all plants and trees are good for the dunes. Some, particularly exotic species, shape the dunes in the wrong way.

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Karaka berries among the food for birds and skinks. Photo / Georgie Ormond
Karaka berries among the food for birds and skinks. Photo / Georgie Ormond

"They collapse," Pearson said. "You think of when you're a kid and you build a sandcastle and it all falls down, so you want a nice rounded dune."

Removing unwanted species is painstaking work, but fortunately Coast Care is inundated with volunteers from local schools and community groups.

"Most of the plants come from the prison nursery, they are paid for by the council. And then people like Geoff Potts, at Parnell Nursery, donate plants as well. And sometimes I get rung up by neighbours who say 'I've got a flax plant that's too big and you can have it'."

The volunteers love getting their fingers dirty and helping do something tangible for the environment.

Castlecliff dunes growing by two metres a year. Photo / Georgie Ormond
Castlecliff dunes growing by two metres a year. Photo / Georgie Ormond

"It's a really great experience for the kids to learn how to do a planting and to learn about the natives and how to care for our dunes," Aranui School teacher Mary Ann Roberts said.

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