Concerned bird lovers say freedom campers oblivious to threat they pose to Golden Bay shorebirds

As thousands of at-risk birds visit the shores of Golden Bay, so freedom campers are now able to park up in an area just metres away from the wildlife.

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But the council argues beaches aren’t only for birds. Source: 1 NEWS

Concerned bird lovers say visitors have no idea how much they're endangering a diverse range of shorebirds.

Taupata Point attracts all kinds of shore and coastal birds, from spoonbills and black-billed gulls to the South Island pied oystercatcher. Ten species are threatened or at risk, including bar-tailed godwits, which have just completed a 12,000km non-stop flight from Alaska.

But just metres away is a gravel reserve which became a designated freedom camping site for the first time last summer.

Forest & Bird Golden Bay committee member Cynthia McConville says there was “ongoing disturbance” to the birds in the area, which were being “put up in the air all the time” by visitors.

“These young freedom campers, I mean they're here to have fun,” she observes.

“And they bring their frisbees, soccer balls and food out onto the beach. They don't know how special this place is, so we can't blame them”.

But she and other residents do place blame on the Tasman District Council and say its not doing enough to protect the birds.

Tasman District Council Regulatory Manager Adrian Humphries disagrees.

“I understand the threats to the birds, I understand that we don't want to upset roosting birds but we've got to be realistic about what we can do with what we've got”.

He says before there were designated camping areas, “we had no control over freedom camping whatsoever”.

“We've got 10,000km of district, we've got very few places where people can camp,” he explains.

The council is working with the Department of Conservation on improved signage and dog control on beaches.

DOC’s Golden Bay Operations Manager Dave Winterburn says its supporting the council and other measures could include information about minimising disturbance to wildlife and fencing around shorebird roosting areas to separate them from campers and dogs.

But Mr Humphries has indicated fencing is unlikely.

“Beaches aren't just for the birds, beaches are for people as well and we've got to gauge that response”.

Ornithologist Rob Schuckard says if the birds are disturbed, “they have to make a longer distance between the feeding area and the roosting site during high tide… and that is not to the benefit of the species”.

He points out that Policy 11 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement requires that adverse effects of activities are avoided on species identified as being threatened or at risk.

Mr Schuckard says the council needs to decide what is most important. “That there are wildlife values there or that we are basically giving the site to freedom campers and then there are no birds over there”.

A Freedom Camping Strategy has been worked on over the past eight months and Mr Humphries says there may be more areas created for freedom campers in the region.

“So one thing we may well do at Taupata is limit the numbers there or if we can find a suitable alternate site, stop camping there entirely”.

Until then, bird lovers say they’ll be keeping a close eye on the visitors as much as the wildlife.