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Guardians fall out over river vision

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013
Waikanae River

DIVIDED: Waikanae River guardians John Topliff, left, and David Blomfield are at odds over native plantings along the river.

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They say opposites attract - but that's definitely not the case among elderly Waikanae "river guardians".

On the north bank, Friends of Waikanae River members are outraged that Kapiti Coast District Council has been ripping out native plants that have been growing for years, on the grounds that they are not native to the river corridor.

The Friends, including David Blomfield, 86, have described the action as "eco-terrorism" and "botanical ethnic cleansing".

But over on the south bank, John Topliff, 76, nicknamed "Lord of the River" after dedicating more than 30 years to planting seedlings along his side of it, is just as adamant that the black-listed species must go, and has described his north bank critics as "probably good-intentioned but misinformed".

Caught in the middle are plants such as renga renga lilies, puriri, puka and brachyglotis, which the district council and Greater Wellington Regional Council have included in an ecological strategy as unsuitable for planting in the area, after consultation with iwi.

The natural range for puriri and puka was several hundred kilometres north of Waikanae, Mr Topliff said.

"Moving forward to a more sustainable and enlightened ecological future for the river . . . we should not let probably good-intentioned but misinformed people put this at risk.

"The council is removing a small amount of shrubs and trees and replanting them in other reserves . . . The plants being removed are not natural to the river corridor. The objective is to connect Kapiti Island by an ecological corridor to the Tararua Range with species of plants that protected land and provided food for birds and other fauna present before the clearance of the forest cover over 100 years ago."

There was not unlimited space to plant trees, he said. "We must make sure species such as kohekohe and matai, endemic to the area, are not pushed out by species unnatural to the area.

"We would welcome Dave to join us [in planting and maintenance] . . ."

Asked if he would continue to plant the black-listed plants, Mr Blomfield said emphatically: "No comment."

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- The Dominion Post

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