What has been deemed an 'honest mistake' has led to a Northland man receiving a $1600 fine for the removal of historic war artefacts from Ruapekapeka Pa.
Sadly, these offences are happening at important cultural heritage sites across New Zealand and are not always so innocent, the Department of Conservation (DoC) said.
Te Ruapekapeka Trust and DoC were alerted through comments on Facebook that the man was seen using a metal detector and removing artefacts at Ruapekapeka pa in late January.
The man came forward immediately and returned the items, which were then blessed and returned to Ruapekapeka, which is 41km north-west of Whangārei.
DoC was alerted to the offence, contacted the man and issued two infringement notices (fines) for failure to comply with the Reserves Act for cutting sod and removal of a relic from a historic site.
"The offender cut approximately 20 holes in the pa and removed a number of artefacts from the site, including parts of an exploded cannon ball. While the offender did the right thing in coming forward and immediately returning the items, we have a duty of care to enforce the well-displayed rules to protect our treasured historic sites of which Te Ruapekapeka is one of the best preserved in the country,'' DoC Senior Heritage Advisor, Andrew Blanshard said.
''We hope this fine and the publicity around it will encourage people to check the rules at place carefully before acting. All our conservation heritage sites are protected. DoC takes these incidences very seriously.''
He said unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
''Our heritage sites across the country are at risk from numerous factors. But the majority of damage is sadly and avoidably caused by people. In the past year numerous heritage sites both on and off public conservation land have been damaged by human activities,'' Blanshard said.
''Even small incidences like vehicles driving across middens can mean that we loose vital information that could if recorded and investigated correctly add to our national story.''
He said sites damaged this year range from middens that are over 700 years old, pa sites, early European mining sites and a host of places in between.
DoC's latest visitor insights report showed that compared with other outdoor sites, visitors to cultural heritage sites were more likely to report 'a lot' or 'a fair amount' of all types of visitor impacts.
"This all comes at a time when we know that New Zealanders are more engaged than ever with their heritage and wanting to learn more," Pita Tipene, interim chair of Te Ruapekapeka Trust said.
"We all need to help protect these sites as the stories they can tell us are the building blocks of our national identity."
If you see vandalism or damage being caused to heritage sites in conservation areas, DoC is asking people to call the DoC HOTline.
Ruapekapeka Pa and battlefield, 14 km south-east of Kawakawa, is recognised as one of New Zealand's iconic historic heritage sites, being the best preserved Northern War site where features remain visible on the surface, much as they were all those years ago.