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By RACHEL MACDONALD

Vandals are destroying the hard work of volunteers striving to restore delicate North Canterbury dunes.

Delinquent beachgoers, some in four-wheel-drives, have caused thousands of dollars in damage and undone hundreds of hours of hard work by volunteers.

Tuhaitara Coastal Park general manager Greg Byrnes says he is sad and frustrated by the ongoing eco-vandalism.

In a recent incident, the driver of one vehicle smashed out two locked gates and laid waste to plantings. “It’s just gutting, and it happens over and over again.

“We have spent years working with Environment Canterbury, the Waimakariri District Council, and the local community to create robust dune systems here.

Disheartening . . . Recent damage to the dune system in North Canterbury. Photos: Supplied

“Then, established plantings – not something we can replace in a matter of days – get ripped apart by four-wheel-drivers determined to get access to the beach any way they can.”

Te Kohaka o Tuhaitara Trust is a registered charity dedicated to protecting the 800 hectares of dune systems and wetlands that run from the mouth of the Waimakariri River to Waikuku Beach.

These are essential to the sustainability of the local ecology and the preservation of the beach environment itself, Greg says.

He says any man-made structures along the shore can only ever be temporary and water will always encroach, whereas a resilient dune system has lasting strength.

“There’s been a spike in vandalism, and in dumping of rubbish around Woodend and Pines Beach, and garden clippings at Pegasus, over the last three or four weeks.

“We have by-laws that govern who has access to the beach and where, which is great, and the council and ECan have been brilliant, but sometimes we feel like we’re on a hiding to nothing,” he says.

The benefits from hundreds of hours of volunteer work have been lost due to vandalism.

“We can put in new gates; and we can replace the three trail cameras we installed to watch the birds, but which we’ve ended up using to monitor arson; but it’s really hard when it’s established trees in the ground that get wrecked.”

On the upside, he says, the community has been incredibly supportive.

“Our post about this most recent damage on Facebook got 13,000 hits and loads of
comments.

“It makes me think someone out there must know about a wide wheel-base four-wheel-
drive, probably about the size of a Surf, with damaged front bullbars,” he says.

“At the end of the day, we’re a charitable trust. It would be nice to focus on
funding planting and education, not ploughing dead money into repairing posts, fences and cables.”

Waimakariri District Council community project officer Mike Kwant, who works closely
with Greg, totally agrees.

“We have problems on all our beaches – and in many of our parks – literally every
day, with drivers trying to take their vehicles into places they shouldn’t be, and creating
all kinds of damage.

“We’re constantly trying to come up with creative, cost-effective ways to get people just to abide by the bylaws,” he says.

“And the whole process – damage and mitigation – affects all of us. Every time council has to go down and replace a fence or a gate, that’s ratepayer money being wasted.”