26 Jan 2012

Conservationist charged with assault

2:32 pm on 26 January 2012

An elderly conservationist has been charged with assaulting a kiteboarder on a Northland beach.

Margaret Hicks, who is 78, is accused of punching the woman in the face at Ruakaka before Christmas.

Mrs Hicks has been an outspoken critic of kiteboarders in the wildlife sanctuary on the Ruakaka estuary.

The sanctuary is the summer home of endangered birds such as dotterels and godwits.

She denies the charge and says she will defend it vigourously in court.

Tensions over kiteboarding in Northland have been simmering for several years, with conservation groups claiming the riders disrupt the nesting and roosting of rare shorebirds.

Their complaints have been supported by research and a report by Department of Conservation scientists.

The Northland Regional Council is in the process of changing a bylaw that exempts kiteboards from the five-knot-speed limit in estuaries, or less than 200 metres from shore.

The council says when kiteboarders lobbied for the exemption, they claimed they rode their boards off the coast, and posed no safety risk.

But deputy harbour master Jim Lyle says as the sport has grown in popularity, kiteboarders have increasingly ventured into estuaries where they can achieve very high speeds.

He says that is unsafe for other beach users and the council plans to scrap the exemption.

Submissions on the issue close next month.