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Forest & Bird’s Golden Bay Branch recently completed a three-year project turning a freedom camping site into a safe haven for birds.

Forest & Bird magazine

A version of this story was first published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Forest & Bird magazine.

Forest & Bird magazine Autumn 2023 cover

Our Golden Bay Branch wanted to restore a shorebird roosting site at Taupata, near Farewell Spit, then build a bird hide for visitors.

But first they needed to deal with a tricky local issue – Taupata was a designated freedom camping site, and campers were disturbing the birds.

Tasman District Council had decided to allow freedom camping at Taupata Reserve despite objections from Forest & Bird, the Department of Conservation, and the Ornithological Society of New Zealand. They all pointed out this was an important coastal bird hotspot.

“Once a roost for kuaka bar-tailed godwits, when the site opened up for freedom camping, these birds quickly abandoned it,” explains branch chair Cynthia McConville.

“Freedom campers were creating disturbance, including lighting fires on the beach, playing frisbee, and kicking soccer balls.

“As a result, ground-nesting birds, including tōrea pango variable oystercatchers and tūturiwhatu banded dotterel, also abandoned the site.”

In March 2019, the branch launched a campaign to shut down the freedom camping site. It took nearly two years, but in December 2020 the council announced it would close.

The new bird hide at Taupata. Image Cynthia McConville

The new bird hide at Taupata. Image Cynthia McConville

Next, our Golden Bay Branch pressed ahead with their plans to develop Taupata as an ecofriendly destination for bird lovers. Local residents include terns, gulls, gannets, shags, herons, and penguins.

Branch volunteers restored the area, including planting native bush to shield the roost from human activity. Then, with community support, they built a bird hide, designed free of charge by Andy Clarke.

Now visitors could watch the birds that returned to the site once the freedom campers departed. Numbers there can be as high as 500 when the national migrants arrive.

As well as kuaka godwits, other Arctic migrants to Taupata include kohutapu sharp-tailed sandpiper, far eastern curlew, and huahu red knot. Kōtuku white heron and kotuku ngutupapa royal spoonbill also visit.

Recently, the branch designed and installed a “Coastal Birds of Golden Bay” information panel so visitors could identify the species they were seeing.

Coastal Birds of Golden Bay. Image supplied

Coastal Birds of Golden Bay. Image supplied

“The feedback has been really positive. Local and international visitors appreciate the opportunity the bird hide provides to get up close to so many different species of birds,” adds Cynthia.

“The branch is proud of what it has achieved at Taupata. We’ve restored a roosting site where the birds can rest undisturbed and provided an opportunity for people to come and learn about our coastal birds.”

The branch will carry on looking after the site, including weed control and additional planting to enhance the borders.

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