Doing good in the Dunes – environmental restoration on the Motu Trails

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Environmental restoration on the Motu Trails

By Bennett & Slater

When you venture out on one of the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s Great Rides, chances are you’ll encounter one of the many environmental restoration projects that have flourished alongside the trails.

They follow in the tread marks of Wellington’s legendary Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park, an outstanding example of community co-operation for the benefit of both people and nature. Following their lead are projects such as the Waikato River Trail’s riparian planting and pest-trapping in Pureora Forest on the Timber Trail.

Along the beautiful eastern Bay of Plenty coastline, the Dunes section of the Motu Trails is another great example.

Back in 2011 when the Dunes Trail was built, the coastal habitat it passed through was full of gorse, kikuyu, boxthorn, pampas and other invasive plants. Although some planting had gone on, Opotiki District Council was fighting a losing battle to control the spread of weeds.

The Dunes Trail created an opportunity for more comprehensive and planned environmental restoration. In 2015, a biodiversity management plan was signed. It identified pest species, and established a five-year works programme factoring in goals and monitoring, with the annual funding costs of $18,000 shared by the District Council, DOC, and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council that also manages the project.

Other individuals and groups have also gotten involved, including Auckland-based humanitarian group Shah Satnam Ji Green S Welfare Force Wing whose hands-on restoration work has given the project a great boost.

Since the programme started, there has been significant weed control and rabbit culling alongside extensive native planting. More than 15,000 plants have gone in so far.

The coastline is a harsh environment where plants grow slowly. Overall, however, the success rate has been good, and in some areas the young trees have now reach above head height.

In other areas, lower shrubbery maintains view windows through the dunes to the sea. The shore spurge (Euphorbia glauca) – an endangered coastal species – has been widely planted and is thriving. So is Muelenbeckia, also known as wire vine, which was already present but is growing in much greater thickets and supporting an increasing population of the native copper butterfly.

Jim Robinson, manager of the Motu Trails, believes the project’s success is down to good planning and plenty of goodwill. ‘Establishing a co-operative conservation plan that set out our commitment and goals has been critical, but none of this would have happened if it weren’t for the trail itself which has not only opened up access around the dunes but also created a sense of community ownership.’