As persistent illegal dumping damages Te Kuiti's Mangaokewa Reserve, the Department of Conservation (DoC) urges visitors to report suspicious behaviour.
Fly-tipping and vandalism have been occurring at the reserve for years and DoC's Maniapoto District operations manager Graham Kimber says the ongoing vandalism is increasingly frustrating.
"Mangaokewa Reserve is a sacred site for Ngāti Rora hapū, with the caves historically used as the final resting place for tīpuna."
As the site is managed by DoC and Ngāti Rora hapū together, representatives of the hapū have approached DoC with their concerns about how Mangaokewa Reserve is being treated by a small minority of people visiting.
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Kimber says: "The fly-tipping and vandalism are deeply disrespectful. In recent weeks we've encountered household rubbish, trashed fences and even a severed sheep's head."
Dumping rubbish on public conservation land is illegal. By law, an individual can face punishments reaching from a $300 infringement fine to a fine up to $100,000 for contaminants or even up to two years' imprisonment. A corporate can face up to a $200,000 fine.
Kimber says the dumping and vandalism take his staff away from core conservation work, and also present a health and safety risk for DoC workers and visitors. The activities also detract from the natural beauty of the location, which is popular with trampers.
"Cleaning up the rubbish and repairing busted assets ultimately costs taxpayers money – and it's funding we would much rather put to conservation of species, improving visitor experiences and working with our community to protect natural areas."
All local councils offer refuse disposal services to residents and business, "so ultimately there's absolutely no excuse for tipping trash into a beautiful and sacred location like this".
Kimber urges members of the public who witness vandalism or rubbish-dumping at the reserve to report it: "We need the public's help here. Information and public pressure are really useful tools in curbing this sort of behaviour."
Details such as car registrations, descriptions of individuals and photographs are valuable evidence police can use, he says. If you see illegal dumping and vandalism contact the NZ Police or 0800 DOC HOT.