Regional | Far North

Iwi, forest manager call time on illegal rubbish dumping in Far North nature spot

Locals are thought to be responsible for continuous illegal dumping of rubbish in the Te Hiku forest. Photo: NZME

The landowners and managers of a popular Far North nature spot say illegal rubbish and weed dumping is out of control and threatening protected wetlands.

The Te Hiku forest, east of Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē (Ninety Mile Beach), is jointly owned by four iwi (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Ngāi Takoto, Te Rarawa) and managed by Summit Forests.

A recent clean-up by Summit Forests staff found the popular tourist spot was littered with a trailer-load of rubbish, including mattresses, blankets, bottles, cans, food packaging, tyres and a dog skull.

According to the forest managers, the issue of illegal rubbish was ongoing, with the last major clean-up in August producing six trailer loads of trash, including an old washing machine, beer cans and other household items.

Summit Forests clear trailer-loads of rubbish throughout the year across a range of Northland forests they manage. Photo: NZME

Summit Forests environmental planner Karen Lucich said the behaviour was intolerable and was costing the company around $5000 per year for waste disposal across its Northland forests (including Te Hiku).

She said she believed the behaviour was coming from locals dumping household goods like whiteware, televisions, clothes, food packaging, bottles, cans, buckets and nappies, as well as tyres and cars.

Lucich said what was most frustrating was how most of the rubbish was recyclable and free to dispose of.

“This has been going on for what feels like forever, and even with policy changes to waste disposable, it doesn’t change the behaviour,” Lucich said.

“There is just a total lack of care or respect, and what baffles me is that it actually takes more effort to dump this stuff in the forest than take it to any of the local transfer stations.

The most frustrating thing, Summit Forests environmental planner Karen Lucich says, is much of the rubbish they find would have been free to dispose of at any of the local transfer stations. Photo: NZME

“It’s a privilege, not a right to have access to the forest, so I think education is key, and maybe even shaming people out of this behaviour or peer-pressuring them into [seeing] that this sort of behaviour is not okay.”

Lucich said the team was also seeing an increase in people dumping weeds and garden waste, which was causing a real threat to the protected wetlands in the area.

The team had found plants like yucca, bromeliads, cacti, gravel groundsel, ginger and agapanthus - some of which are considered pests and illegal to distribute - which were now growing in the forest, upsetting the ecological balance.

Ngāti Kuri kaumātua Graeme Neho said the issue of illegal rubbish dumping had been going on for too long and it was only a matter of time before those dumping refuse were caught.

“The four iwi had that forest returned back to them during the Treaty settlement claims and with the help of Summit Forests have been working tirelessly to ensure the forest is kept in a good state,” Neho said.

“To see the forest being abused in such a way is unacceptable, and my feeling is, if this continues, these people will be caught, they’ll face the legal consequences and named and shamed in the local paper.

“As an iwi representative for Ngāti Kuri, I won’t tolerate this rubbish and lack of respect for the environment, and I believe the other iwi representatives would feel the same way as I do.”

Neho said there were also concerns about the rubbish that was accumulating on the forest floor and how it would eventually end up in wastewater, and the resulting impact this would have on local waterways and beaches.

The Te Hiku Forest is a popular place for locals and tourists to hunt, walk, explore, ride and drive 4WDs.

- NZ Herald