By Ian Patrick, Rings Beach Wetland Project
Since it began in 2008 the Rings Beach walking track has developed into a significant conservation project. It was initiated by the late Bruce Smith in collaboration with Ian MacDonald, both residents of Kuaotunu. Since 2012 it has been carried on under Ian's leadership,
Recognised formally by an award from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network in 2016, this project has developed into a valuable asset for the Mercury Bay region.
At Rings Beach with a network of 280 traps taking care of predators, volunteers ably assisted by local schools have planted over 4500 native trees, selected to provide a food source for native birds re-establishing themselves in this bush reserve.
Evolving from an ambition of Bruce's to provide a track as a recreational facility for the local community, the focus shifted to conservation once the unmodified wetland was discovered. The origin of the Waiari Stream that flows into Rings Beach, the wetland is remarkably free of pollutants and invasive weed. It also contained three vulnerable pairs of the endangered fernbird, which inspired the predator trapping program. The subsequent growth of this population has been remarkable.
The 276 Ha area was clear felled and farmed until the 1950s, but today regeneration of the forest is assisted by an ambitious planting and felling program. Total removal of the wilding pines that currently dominate the landscape will expose native trees to sunlight and increased water supply, boosting growth to the ultimate benefit of future generations.
Long term plans include increasing the trapping network with gas operated self-resetting traps once felling is complete in an effort to completely eliminate predators.
The 4.7 km Rings Beach track and wetland conservation project is now enjoyed by locals and visitors in increasing numbers, a track counter installed by DOC recorded over 7000 walkers in 6 weeks last summer and numbers are still high through winter.
The Rings Beach Wetland group, a sub committee of the Coromandel Peninsula Coastal Walkways Soc. Inc. operate in a public conservation block under a Management Agreement with DOC and has enjoyed generous funding support from DOC, Waikato Regional Council, Forest & Bird, Valder Trust, Pub Charity and donations from local business and residents.