environment

The billionaire’s weed problem

Over two hectares of public conservation land fenced off by a US billionaire in return for weeding contains some 'unwanted organisms'

Part of the Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve fenced off by US billionaire Ric Kayne’s Tara Iti golf course in return for weeding contains several weeds, some of which appear to be well-established.

The weeds include Mexican devil, boneseed, climbing asparagus, Sydney golden wattle, sheep’s sorrel, fleabane, pampas grass, cat's ear, climbing dock and tree lupin. Many of these weeds prevent native species from growing.

At least three are legally classed as unwanted organisms.

Native species do appear to have been planted, or are regenerating. These include karo, kānuka, muehlenbeckia, coprosma, sand coprosma, flax, toi toi and pingao. 

Gorse and a wilding pine in the fenced area looks to have been sprayed but the other weeds are flourishing.

Weeds photographed in a fenced area with a legal status of 'unwanted organism'. From left: Climbing asparagus, boneseed, pampas grass. Photos: Farah Hancock

In 2015, the Department of Conservation was assured by Kayne’s Tara Iti golf course developers the reserve land it fenced off would be maintained: “All weed and pest control and vegetation establishment and maintenance is our responsibility.”

Despite identifying a need for a formal agreement, the document is only in a draft state four years after the construction of the fence.

The fence along the northern end of the golf course was a consent requirement in order to keep golf course guests from wandering into the reserve. However, instead of being built on the boundary of the golf course it wanders up to 90 metres into the reserve in places.

New Zealand Fairy Tern Charitable Trust coordinator Heather Rogan told Newsroom earlier this year the position of the fence was a mystery to her.

“I’m not quite sure who or what the fence protects the plantings from. I can’t see that’s an issue. It’s not a part of the wildlife refuge where there are heaps of people. There are people more likely to be coming from the golf course side, I would have thought.”

In total, 2.62 hectares of public land lies behind a sturdy eight-string fence. There are no signs on the fence suggesting it’s not the boundary of the reserve, or suggesting people stay off regenerating vegetation. 

The fence gives greater privacy to a large house Kayne is constructing 12 to 25 m from the true boundary between the golf course and reserve.

Confusion over what is and isn’t public land has resulted in members of the public being told they were trespassing in the fenced area at least twice. Once this was by police officers attempting to remove people watching former US president Barack Obama play golf. The officers said they were told the fence is the golf club's boundary.

A single boneseed plant can produce 50,000 seeds per year. These can stay dormant in soil for up to 10 years before germinating. Legally it's classed as an unwanted organism. Photo: Farah Hancock

When the Department of Conservation, which manages Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve, agreed to the placement of the fence, the house was not consented for its current position. After DoC agreed, a building consent was altered to shift the house.

In 2015, when the fence was being constructed, concerns were passed on by manager Nigel Miller to the golf course developers about the placement and the need for a formal agreement.

“ … there is a question around the reasoning behind the fence being up to 90m inside the reserve and the visual impacts from the reserve side. There is also a need to formalise any fence line via an agreement of some sort if it is not essentially on the boundary …”

Earlier this year when Newsroom first contacted DoC about the agreement, it said a formal maintenance agreement was due in June. 

This week, DoC’s Whangarei biodiversity supervisor Les Judd said the June date was ambitious and other urgent work has meant a delay to the community agreement regarding weeding.

A draft document is being worked on and she anticipates final sign-off will take six weeks. Even when the agreement is in place it seems DoC's checks on the weed status of the area will be informal.

“We haven’t done official monitoring of the planting or weeding – this is not a requirement of any community agreement. We do however have a good oversight of this fenced area through other work we are doing in the area and have no concerns about the planting or weeding that is taking place.”

When told the fenced area contained some weeds which appeared to be well established, Judd said some species were “very quick-growing” and it was unrealistic to expect a coastal environment to be weed-free.

“The community agreement will include an annual work plan that is agreed to by DoC and the club. If we feel more weed control is required in the future we will be working with the club to ensure it is carried out.” 

Weeds photographed in fenced area. From left: Mexican devil, sheep's sorrel, Sydney golden wattle. Photos: Farah Hancock

Tara Iti's spokesperson, public relations practitioner David Lewis, was asked when weed control was last completed. He said the golf course developer told him it preferred to “leave DoC to answer your queries”. He noted reporting had been “pretty one-sided”.

Earlier this week an Environment Court hearing was held regarding a dam that the golf course development company illegally-constructed in public land without seeking permission. This was on a different reserve, on the other side of the golf course. The dam is blocking the passage of fish, an important food source for the critically endangered fairy tern. 

It’s reported Ric Kayne hopes to build two more golf courses at Mangawhai. This would result in four golf courses within the small coastal settlement.

Read more:

The fence the billionaire built

An impassable fish pass

Court confusion over no man's dam

Advocates for rare bird take dam fight to court

Exclusive golf club’s ironic bogey

NZ’s rarest bird on the brink

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