23 Sep 2023

Hamilton launches app to get people rediscovering the city's nature

8:28 am on 23 September 2023
Hamilton's new Nature In The City app.

Hamilton's new Nature In The City app. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

Hamilton locals and visitors have a new app to help discover natural areas in the city.

Emily Coffey from Hamilton City Council gave RNZ a sticky-beak at the council's new Nature In The City app before it launches on 25 September. It was designed by the council as part of its work to add nearly 1000 hectares of native vegetation to the city by 2050.

The app included maps of gully systems and walking paths, information on what you might expect to see or hear in each location, and also views of the area in 1943 and now to see how the area has been revegetated over time.

It was all part of the council's work to both improve community access to nature, and push forward on its restoration goal as Matthew Vare, nature in the city programme manager, explained.

"We've got to deliver by 2050, 10 percent native vegetation cover across Hamilton City. We aren't going to do that by ourselves, so we have to engage pretty much the whole community in helping us achieve that target."

It was all the more ambitious because there was so little native bush left in the city.

"Our current native vegetation cover is about 1.7 percent, so we're sitting at quite a low figure."

Emily Coffey

Emily Coffey. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

Cor Smith was the Mangakotukutuku Gully volunteer coordinator for the group of locals helping to restore native vegetation to the gully. It was one of the 10 gullies highlighted on the Nature in the City app, and he said he was surprised how few locals enjoyed using the gully walkways.

"I'd like to get more people engaging with this gully; similar to how we were when we were kids, you know I'd just go down to the gully and play for hours."

The app will highlight native vegetation and bird-life you might see at each location. In the Mangakotukutuku Gully for example, you could see or hear a bellbird - a sight so rare in Hamilton, Smith could not quite believe it when he first saw them.

"I thought, 'No, it's a finch mate, it's a finch.' And then I just looked at it for a while, it flew across the stream and it started singing and it was 100 percent a bellbird."

As we walked through the Mangakotukutuku Gully, we spot some bat boxes high in the trees and turned to the app, which told us this was a 'bat hotspot'.

"This is a point of interest along the tour of the Mangakotukutuku Gully - you can learn more about our native long-tailed bat," Coffey said.

Emily Coffey and Cor Smith.

Emily Coffey and Cor Smith. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

Hamilton has one of the only urban bat populations. Smith said he and his family liked to bike down to the "bat hotspot" at dusk, lie on their backs in the grass and watch the bats flicker in and out of the bat houses.

Coffey said one of app's goals was getting people out into the city's natural areas and translating that into action. She said the more people knew about an area, the more passionate they became.

Cor Smith.

Cor Smith. Photo: Libby Kirkby-McLeod / RNZ

"Then they might be driven to volunteer, join up to a great group like the one Cor and Amy are running, and help us restore nature to the city."

Coffey said restoring 10 percent of Hamilton back to native bush is a 30-year programme and the council could not do it alone.

The app included 10 self-guided urban walks, and even had audio of common bird songs - so you can tell your finch from your bellbird.

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