Tamahere’s top environmental project risks grinding to a halt as local conservationists find their efforts to restore a native wetland hitting a wall of bureaucracy.
The 4.6ha Tamahere Reserve was a weed-infested, rubbish-strewn haven for possums and other pests when it was taken on as a restoration project last year by a hardworking group led by local man, Leo Koppens of Tamahere Gully Care.
But despite significant progress on the ground the group was so frustrated by a lack of collaboration from the Waikato District Council and the Conservation Department that it was considering its future, Koppens told the Tamahere Community Committee this week.
The committee has supported the project, describing it as “one of its most important long term environmental projects”.
The Tauwhare Rd reserve presented “an opportunity to restore an example of a rare Waikato ecosystem which, because of its location in central Tamahere, could be an easily accessible and much valued community asset,” TCC noted last August.
Despite being neglected for decades, dominated by overgrown, unpruned pine trees and choked by weeds, vestiges of native plants had survived, including small remnants of kahikatea swamp forest. One giant kahikatea was estimated by Waikato University ecologists to be at least 400-years-old.
Koppens told the committee that many weeds had been dug out or sprayed, more than 500 native plants had been planted, around 20 possums trapped and a management plan prepared for a strip along the margins of the Mangaone Stream, which borders one edge of the reserve.
But the Department of Conservation (DoC) now wanted a plan of where each plant would be planted, he said.
“This is impossible to do given the terrain and the logistics of getting plants to the site never mind the time line. The goal posts keep shifting,” Koppens said.
While the local workforce was making progress toward forming a trust to be in charge of restoration the council insisted an operational plan be prepared before any agreement could be entered into with the care group.
Describing a Catch-22 situation, Koppens said the group had been asked to prepare the operational plan but it had no money to do so. A professional quote had put the cost at $4800 and the time it would take at three months. Yet until there was a plan there could be no agreement between the group and the council.
Meanwhile, DoC had asked the council to halt the group’s work in the reserve. It believed there could be rare native bats and mudfish in the reserve and required monitoring to be done to determine whether they were present or not.
“Who will fund this [monitoring]? Koppens questioned. “Our group has almost had enough and is considering its future.
“The concept of council let alone DoC working collaboratively with us is just not happening.”
The care group had planned to provide at least 1.2km of walkways and boardwalks for locals to enjoy a reserve where, over time, weeds and pines had been replaced by native trees and shrubs in which native wildlife flourished.
The project had attracted a number of supporters, including Tamahere School which had long wanted a conservation project nearby the school.