A row of steel fence posts erected illegally to stop vehicles driving into a protected wildlife area on a popular Northland beach have been pulled out by council officials.
About 50 warratah fence posts, driven into the sand by local man David Lourie to protect the Waipū Wildlife Refuge, were removed by Northland Regional Council staff after it was clear there had been no resource consent issued.
The fence has attracted plenty of comments on Facebook pages with people split between supporting the fence to those wanting it gone and saying the metal posts were a safety issue.
NRC group manager regulatory services Colin Dall confirmed a complaint had been received and staff removed the fence last Thursday from the coastal marine area, leaving a section of fence landward of the coastal marine area which was on land administered by the Department of Conservation.
The 80m section of fence was taken down which about 450m north of the mid-channel at the mouth of the Waipū River.
Dall said the fence required resource consent from the Northland Regional Council under the Resource Management Act and regional coastal plan.
"Because the fence had been erected without the appropriate consent it is an offence. The person doing it is liable and in this case the matter is still being considered," Dall said.
Waipū's Lourie, who ran for Northland Regional Council in last year's local body elections but was not elected, has been part of the team of dedicated volunteers caring for the Waipū Wildlife Refuge for the last five years.
Lourie said as a member of Bream Bay Coastal Care Trust he was tasked with protecting the shorebirds and dunes on the north side of Waipū River mouth.
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"As everybody knows the Whangārei District Council the Northland Regional Council and Department of Conservation have their resources stretched and rely on volunteers.
"Unfortunately there are a few people that take advantage of this and seem determined to destroy the refuge with their vehicles but on the positive side the vast majority behave like responsible adults."
He said putting up the latest fence, that ran 10m passed the low tide mark into the water, had produced the evidence that the fencing was effective and cost efficient that lead to transformational results in the wildlife area.
"It's like comparing a speedway track to a Japanese rock garden, there is that much difference," Lourie said.
Last year the Waipū Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 50th anniversary after the refuge was proclaimed in 1969 by the Governor-General under the Wildlife Act and extended in 1999 under the Reserves Act. The refuge extends down the beach to the low tide mark.
He said the main reason for the refuge was to protect the shorebirds, all of which had populations with much reduced numbers and some are rare and endangered due to habitat loss and disturbances.
Fencing off nesting and roosting sites was normal all over the country and around the world.
"What makes this beach more of a challenge is a significant number of people have been habituated to driving vehicles on the beach, and into the refuge and all over the nesting sites.
"All I am doing is trying to protect the refuge from vehicles and doing whatever it takes."
Department of Conservation spokeswoman Abi Monteith said they were working through options to manage the situation, which may include removing the remaining warratahs and would be done in consultation with NRC and WDC.
On Sunday the department launched their inaugural operation targeting recreational motor vehicles in sand dunes in the Bream Bay area.
DoC warrant officer John Donaldson was part of the team, in the Tip Rd carpark and entrance to the beach on Sunday, talking to motorists in vehicles capable of being driven on the beach.
"It's legal to drive on the beach but it is illegal to operate vehicles in the dunes," Donaldson said.
They spoke to more than 50 drivers during three hours and handed out fact sheets showing dunes where vehicles could not go in Bream Bay including the Waipū Wildlife Refuge, Uretiti Scenic Reserve, Ruakākā Scenic Reserve and Poupouwhenua Scenic Reserve.
Under the Northland Reserves Bylaws 2007 those who are nabbed driving in the dunes can face a fine of up to $5000.
Donaldson said the response from a majority of the drivers had been positive and there was plenty of local support. He said the operation was ongoing and DoC were working with local iwi Patuharakeke and the NRC.