11 Apr 2019

Auckland parks with unprotected kauri trees a worry for locals

9:53 am on 11 April 2019

One of the country's most popular tourist attractions, Mt Eden or Maungawhau, is on a list of 69 parks with a high risk of contracting kauri dieback disease - but as yet nothing is in place to protect the trees.

Kit Howden chairs the volunteer group Friends of Maungawhau

Kit Howden chairs the volunteer group Friends of Maungawhau. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

There are 361 local parks in Auckland with kauri trees, and Auckland Council has earmarked almost 70 of them for track upgrades, closures, and spray stations to prevent the disease from spreading.

A local group is concerned urban kauri trees are at risk.

Kit Howden chairs the volunteer group Friends of Maungawhau, which helps manage the mountain's flora and fauna and seven kauri trees.

"I think the hygiene stations could be easily put in, and the stations are not just reminding people to clean their footwear going in and going out but also as an education," Mr Howden said of the 1.5 million people who visit the mountain each year.

Friends of Maungawhau installed a sign at the gates to tracks leading to the kauri on the southern slopes, asking people to keep to the tracks.

"Many of the kauri trees are off the track and as long as people keep away from them there's no problem. That's been one of the problems on the mountain, keeping people to the tracks and stopping the bush crashing which is causing erosion and other problems."

Since tracks in the Waitākere Ranges were closed earlier this year, Auckland Council has assessed the region's parks for kauri dieback - a pathogen spread in soil that infects the trees' roots.

So far 18 Auckland parks have either fully or partially closed, another 25 tracks in parks are due to close in the next few weeks, and 17 park tracks are proposed to close - these are waiting for local board approval.

It's part of a national programme to address kauri dieback, and Auckland Council's biosecurity manager Phil Brown said parks that attract lots of visitors were more at risk.

"Parks that we're most concerned about are parks that have high kauri value, so they've got lots of kauri or important large kauri on them, and also have high recreational values ... there's lots of people who want to use those parks. Where there's an intersection of those two things that creates risk," Mr Brown said.

"We need to balance our efforts with protecting those ones that are uninfected and we want to keep people out with also trying to manage those sites that are infected and we don't want the disease to leave those sites."

Mr Brown said Auckland Council has spent $7 million on the kauri dieback programme this year. But there is no protection plan for Mt Eden yet.

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Photo: RNZ

An Auckland Council report to the Albert-Eden Local Board stated that "investment will be required to ensure that healthy kauri are protected and any diseased kauri are contained and do not become a source of infection".

It said further investigations were required to determine the exact nature of the necessary kauri protection works for each park in the local board area, and results would be presented to the local board in the middle of this year.

Mt Eden is administered by Tupuna Maunga o Tamaki Makaurau, which has the authority to decide what protection measures are put in place.

Another tourist attraction in central Auckland, Cornwall Park, has a kauri grove and the park director Michael Ayrton said the trees in Cornwall Park did not have dieback at this stage but as a precaution, the groves are fenced off and signposted so the public were aware of the situation.

"We are also in the process of designing a boardwalk through the grove to keep the public to the paths, and are under-planting the groves with suitable species as those found in the natural environment," Mr Ayrton said.

Mr Brown from the council said people needed to be aware of what they could do to help protect Auckland's kauri trees.

"Please follow any instructions you find at the start of the tracks. If a track says it's closed, it's closed to help protect the kauri forest and we apologise for any inconvenience," he said.

"We do want to protect the forest and in many cases will be looking to upgrade and reopen those tracks.

"If you do come across a hygiene station, whether going in or out of the forest, please use it thoroughly and remove all the soil from your shoes."

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