Pt England Reserve development will be 'dire' for endangered birds

Dotterel's nest on the ground, making them vulnerable to predators.

Dotterel's nest on the ground, making them vulnerable to predators.

 Shaun Lee knew change was coming when he saw surveyors trudging through an east Auckland dotterel nesting site.

Lee has been volunteering at the Point England Reserve Bird Sanctuary group for four years. While the site is not an official bird sanctuary, many locals perceive it to be.

He said when he saw the surveyors towards the end of last year he approached a few to warn them that they were walking through an endangered dotterel nesting site.

Shaun Lee has started a petition to stop a proposed housing and marae development at Pt England Reserve.

Shaun Lee has started a petition to stop a proposed housing and marae development at Pt England Reserve.

"They said they could not tell me what they were doing but I had heard rumours," Lee said.

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A few months later on December 6 the Government announced it would change the status of Pt England Reserve so about a quarter of it could be sold to the Ngati Paoa iwi.

Ngati Paoa is buying the land as part of a Treaty of Waitangi redress with plans to build 300 houses on the site.

Lee said the development will wipe out about 50 per cent of the dotterel nesting sites in the reserve.

In addition to the dotterel nests, shorebirds including white-faced herons, royal spoonbill, south island oystercatchers, variable oystercatchers and pied stilts roost on the earmarked reserve land.

"The plans paint a really dire situation for the dotterels, it will also destroy the primary roosting habitat of the remaining wild shorebirds in the Tamaki Estuary," Lee said.

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Along with the destruction of nesting and roosting sites Lee said an increase in housing will mean a large influx of cats to the area.

"Cats mostly hunt at night, this is the time male dotterels sit on nests, so it could quickly decimate the population," Lee said.

Lee has identified eight different dotterel that breed at the reserve nesting site.

"We sometimes have 27 roost here so that means Point England is eligible for internationally recognised protection under the Ramsar convention," Lee said.

The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

Lee said the Point England Reserve Bird Sanctuary group had not been contacted before the announcement was made.

"The Government's decision to change reserve land into housing without talking to the community doing the work or coming up with a plan for the endangered species makes me really worried," he said.

Lee said Ngati Paoa have been engaging and have listened to his concerns.

"They have been easy and great to deal with. But my concern is they are under time pressure to start the development," Lee said.

Ngati Paoa iwi Trust chief executive Hauauru Rawiri has said the wellbeing of the birds was a priority.

"The dotterels moved to the reserve land in recent times, originally they were on a shell bank of the Tamaki river.

"We would look to repatriate the place they are originally from through restoration and revitalisation," Rawiri said.

Lee said that would be difficult.

"You can't tell a dotterel where to nest, that's never been done before.

"There is a possible win here for the birds but they should have started their experiments and trials years ago.

"This process doesn't allow enough time to get the right outcome for the birds," Lee said.

Housing and Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government has received advice about the dotterels.

"I understand that they are very mobile birds that relocate their nesting sites each year," Smith said

"Advice I have received is that these birds are likely to find other nesting sites, quite appropriate, within the bulk of the reserve," he said.

Smith said a high number of cats already live close to the reserve.

"I am not satisfied that the additional 300 homes relative to the thousands that are already in this community is going to substantially change the risks to bird life," Smith said.

Lee has started an online petition calling for the Government to halt a bill that will legally change the status of the reserve.

"This would allow time for an independent environmental impact assessment to take place," Lee said.

 - Stuff

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