The story of the Rings Beach Wetland Group is one of hard work, determination and persistence
The Matarangi Bluff Scenic Reserve was originally kauri forest. The arrival of European settlers in the 1800’s resulted in most of the kauri being felled, after which the land was mined for gold, then burnt for farming, and finally more or less neglected.
By 2006 the reserve, by then owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC), was infested with pests and weeds, including large numbers of wilding pines.
Approximately 1% of the original forest did still exist in deep gullies, including kauri, miro, rewa rewa, nikau, toru and kanuka, giving a glimpse into what once was, and what could be again.
A Track was Born
At that time Bruce Smith (a Kuaotunu local) came up with the idea of creating a walking track through the reserve so that the wider community could experience this unique coastal environment.
Born and raised in Mercury Bay, a keen conservationist and recently retired, Bruce enlisted the help of Ian McDonald and Sarah Cooper, leading to their description as "two grandads and a lady".
After identifying a suitable route and with approval from DOC and local iwi Ngati Hei, the trio then set about the task of carving out the track primarily with spades, grubbers, hand saws and loppers.
At 4.7km and through challenging terrain, creating the trail was no easy task, however 20 months later it was largely completed and locals began to use it.
Discovery of the Wetland
During the development of the walking trail, the trio discovered an unmodified 4.5 hectare wetland in the reserve, fed by only by natural springs and natural run off from the bush clad hills.
They soon learned that this unique environment was home to a remnant population of three pairs of the rare and threatened fernbird (mātātā), and along with their supporters they vowed to do everything they could to support and increase not only the fernbird population, but all the native birds and wildlife who had in the past called this area home.
Rings Beach Wetland Group Formed
To fulfil their vision the trio and their volunteer supporters formed the Rings Beach Wetland Group in 2008.
Alongside the ongoing maintenance of the new walking track, the group now had a new aim of restoring the wetland and re-establishing a predator-free forest in the reserve, so that it would become not only a recreational but an educational facility.
An early decision, at the suggestion of DOC, was to align with the Coromandel Peninsula Coastal Walkways Society Inc, which gave the group the administrative, practical and moral support that was vital for a project of this size and nature.
A Sad Loss
Towards the end of 2012 Bruce Smith was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died within a matter of weeks.
In his final days he appointed Ian McDonald to lead the group, and asked Matarangi resident Ian Patrick to take up the role of secretary. The two Ians were very proud to carry on the work involved in realising Bruce’s vision.
To commemorate Bruce's legacy the group planted a grove of rimu (Bruce's favourite tree) and had a seat installed there in Bruce's memory.
The Rings Beach Wetland Project Today
Over the next ten years the Rings Beach Wetland Group collaborated with the local community and a wide network of partners to secure funding for many projects targeted at increasing the biodiversity in the reserve.
A network of traplines was established, large areas of wilding pines felled, thousands of native trees planted, and the original walking trail was maintained and enhanced.
Many of the original volunteers are now getting close to 80, meaning that they are no longer able to contribute as much to the physical work involved in trapping and weed eradication as they would like.
The members of the group therefore came to the conclusion in 2019 that in order to future-proof this now very successful and substantial conservation project, they should leave the shelter of the Coromandel Peninsula Coastal Walkways Society and form their own incorporated society. This was done in June 2019.
As one of the original trio that established the walking trail through the reserve in 2006, it is incredible that Ian McDonald is still in the bush most days taking an active part in all aspects of the ongoing management of the reserve.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the project since its inception, Ian was appointed Patron of the newly incorporated Rings Beach Wetland Group. A very well deserved accolade.
In 2016 Ian's efforts were celebrated by TVNZ in an episode of their Good Sorts programme:
Published courtesy of TV New Zealand