People visiting Taranaki's cultural heritage sites are being urged to only take photographs and leave only footprints.
Department of Conservation (DoC) staff have found four unusual holes at Pukerangiora Pā in North Taranaki.
Situated high above the Waitara River, Pukerangiora Pā is a site of both local and national importance. The historic reserve is in the rōhe of Pukerangiora hapū of Te Atiawa, and co-managed in partnership with the Department of Conservation.
It's thought the small spade holes, found by a DoC staff member at the entrance of the pā, were dug by people using metal detectors to fossick for colonial items due to the site's history as a battlefield during the Taranaki Wars.
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It is likely the visitor was looking for artefacts such as musket balls and military buttons, says DoC senior ranger Dave Rogers.
"We have received reports of people with metal detectors at Pukerangiora Pā in the past. DoC wants to remind visitors it is an offence under the Conservation Act as well as the Heritage New Zealand/Pouhere Taonga Act to dig up a historic archaeological site, and people can face prosecution and a fine if caught doing so."
Pukerangiora hapū hold the role of kaitiaki in their rohe and this includes the protection of Pukerangiora Pā.
"The pā is a wāhi tapū and as kaitiaki we have the responsibility to ensure appropriate tikanga is followed at the pā due to the significance of this site for the hapū and iwi," says Pukerangiora hapū chairman Anaru White. "This site is important in our history and we all need to help protect it."
Metal-detecting activity is a growing concern at heritage sites, particularly those relating to the colonial-era wars. Any excavation at a heritage site without the appropriate approvals is an offence and an issue DoC takes seriously, says DoC senior heritage adviser Cathryn Barr.
"There is clear evidence at Pukerangiora Pā of someone having gone in and dug holes – we are assuming metal detectorists, which is an illegal activity."
DoC is asking people to call its hotline (0800 362 468) if they witness any vandalism or damage being caused to heritage sites in conservation areas.