Town Belt Traverse 2015

Walkers in the sun

Its time to get your walking shoes on again and explore one of Dunedin’s great natural and historical landscapes. The Town Belt Traverse is an 8.2 kilometre from the Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens taking in the heart of the Dunedin Town Belt on Sunday 29th March. The great thing about it is its absolutely free!

The route is a pram friendly event for people of all ages stopping off at five points along the way. Participants will receive a map and ticket at the car-park inside the Southern Cemetery. The traverse starts at between 10-10.30 am and all participants must complete the traverse by 1.30. Collect a stamp at all five marshal points and you can be eligible for some great local  prizes. The route is marked and there will be marshals at road crossing points along the way.

The Dunedin Town Belt is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and plays a special part in the physical and historic landscape  of Dunedin. It has a rich history  that dates back to the planning of Dunedin before settlers arrived here in 1848. The Town Belt covers 203 hectares and includes the two historic cemeteries and the Botanic Gardens. With its extensive parkland and forest remnants it creates a green corridor through the heart of the city.

Today the Town Belt is an important recreational and ecological asset for the city and provides invaluable habitat  for kereru, bellbird, tomtit, tui, rifleman, morepork, and shining cuckoo. The vegetation is an eclectic mix of exotics that dominates the southern area of the ‘belt to the more kanuka and fuchsia dominated ridges and gullies of the northern areas. At Woodhaugh an old stand of kahikatea remains as a reminder of a significant wetland forest that once stood there.

For the Dunedin Amenities Society the protection and enhancement of the Town Belt was the beginning of its foundation in 1888. The Society was founded through the energy of Thomas Brown and Alexander Bathgate to protect, enhance and promote Dunedin’s landscape and biodiversity. The Town Belt Traverse is your opportunity to explore through a self guided walk one of New Zealand’s great reserve sites.

Lower Unity Park

Traverse Highlights

  • The outstanding views from Admiral Byrd’s lookout at Unity Park
  • Walking through Jubilee Park (Thomlinson’s Paddock) the site of the foundation of the Society and a  temporary camp for miners on their way to the goldfields
  • Serpentine Avenue where toitu stream once flowed
  • Learn about the old tram line running through Robin Hood Park from the High Street cable car group.
  • Learn more about the cosmos from the Beverly-Begg Observatory
  • Take a free visit the gardens and grounds of the Olveston stately home
  • Experience the lushness of the fuchsia dominated forest of Queens Drive to Cosy Dell
  • Hear local poets perform at the Clear in honour of Charles Brasch at Prospect Park
  • Enjoy lunch at the old wetland forest remnant at Woodhaugh (Free BBQ supplied)
  • Get a kowhai seed kit and learn more about Project Gold in the Town Belt

Family style

What to Bring

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • A warm jacket (you won’t need it because it’ll be warm and sunny!)
  • A drink and a snack for energy (we have a chocolate bar to get you started)
  • Your camera
  • Your inquisitive nature
  • Your friends and family (dogs on leads thanks)
  • A costume (you might win a prize)

You can use the Normanby bus from opposite Woodhaugh to return to your vehicle at the Southern Cemetery. Check out the bus timetable here.

The Town Belt Traverse Route

The Town Belt Traverse follows the red line on the map from the historic Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens. You can find out more about the unique features of the ‘Belt by clicking on the icons of the map and enlarging it with your mouse. This map is interactive and can be used on a smart-phone.

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Location Location Location

tui

The Dunedin City Council announced on the 19th of September its intention to consider selling 149 parcels of land across the city for a potential return of $10 million dollars.The sale of a variety of city properties has probably not come as news to Dunedin residents as the city struggles to find ways to meet debt repayments. However, analysing the list of properties that the City Council is considering for sale makes for sobering reading. What is clear from the proposal is the possibility of shedding undeveloped recreational open space, playgrounds and esplanade strips which are designed for accessibility and conservation of waterways. One site in particular that provides essential access to waterways and the wider track areas of Ross Creek falls into this category. So, the sale of such properties deserves closer examination of the public use of such land assets for suburban and rural community’s alike.

For an organisation like the Society it raises questions of the value placed on improvements undertaken by community groups and whether that investment will be returned for redistribution to other projects after any potential sale. In one example the Society have invested significant time and capital planting an area proposed for sale which the Council and community have benefited from. It could be argued that the land value has been increased and if it is sold does the value of those improvements get appraised and returned to the Society or the community? Many community organisations who make contributions in a variety of ways to public lands may have similar views and it may make organisations less enthusiastic to make such contributions in the future.

One of the other disturbing aspects of the sale proposals is the loss of open and play spaces, particularly local playgrounds who’s use often fluctuates due to generational change in community’s. Rationalisation of public property today, can mean diminished public areas that are needed in the future. Once again the question has to be asked in lieu of the Council’s playground upgrade programme whether sale proceeds of playgrounds will be reinvested into the community’s strapped for facilities and amenities. This is particularly relevant to these sites, as many are ones that have not been invested in or developed by local authorities over the years. Many of the parcels also appear to be older reserve contributions created as part of subdivision and this should stimulate further discussion on how this process is undertaken and under what criteria, so that the land is economically and socially viable at the time of development.

Highlighted on the list of potential sale properties was 76 Lovelock Avenue and a search of the City Council’s land map shows that this is a substantial portion of the Dunedin Town Belt. The land includes Opoho Park, Lovelock Bush and Bracken’s View. Now it would be easy to get hot and bothered and jump up and down at the notion that part of Dunedin’s oldest reserves was to be flogged off to the highest bidder, but it surely has to be either a clerical error or a practical joke in very poor taste. Needless to say the Society will be keeping a firm eye on this process, particularly the rational of the selection process and the methodology of consultation with the community. As for the sale of the Town Belt, well it’s probably best to take that with a grain of salt and quote a well-known beer commercial, as its doubtful the City Council are that brave.

Table

126th Annual General Meeting

Town Belt Traverse walkers in the sun

The Dunedin Amenities Society is holding its 126th Annual General Meeting at the Maori Hill Community  Centre in Highgate at 5.30pm. The guest speaker will be walking author Anthony Hamel discussing the Town Belt Traverse. All are welcome for a glass of wine and nibbles.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about the Society and become an active member of NZ’s oldest conservation society.

Find the venue on the map below (see you at the little blue flag)

The Fantails at Craigieburn

This week Craigieburn had a visit from some budding naturalists, explorers and outdoor adventurers. The Fantail Trails are a Dunedin based nature exploration group for children ages 0 through to junior primary school. The group undertake outdoor outings for caregivers and children to explore some of the great nature spaces in Dunedin. The outdoor walks and exploration provide a social outing for caregivers and children and create opportunities for unstructured play, getting muddy and exploring at a pre-school pace. The group today took the opportunity to explore the Craigieburn forest and visit some of the heritage areas of the reserve. Great to have young children and their caregivers using Craigieburn in such a creative and interesting way.

Fantail Trails Group

Strolling in the Sunshine of Success

SONY DSCIt was with an immediate eye on the skies above on Sunday morning that members of the Society started their day. With all of the planning and worrying seeing it dawn beautifully fine and clear took away any of those feelings of apprehension. This was our big day to share and celebrate with Dunedin the Amenities Society’s 125th Anniversary, and what a day it turned out to be. With over 520 people undertaking the Traverse it was great to see the many happy faces that enjoyed exploring one of Dunedin’s very special places.  The Traverse attracted a broad mixture of people of all ages and the fine conditions allowed the Town Belt to really shine.

The five stopping points all proved a welcome respite for walkers with something of interest at each point. There were snow dogs at Byrd’s Unity Park Antarctic monument, cable car enthusiasts at the tramway site in Robin Hood Park, the cool elegance of the grounds of Olveston and some inspirational poetry at Charles Brasch’s site “The Clear” at Prospect Park. None of these things would have been possible without the generosity of many people who gave up their time to keep people safe, informed and entertained. To all of those people the Society’s sincere thanks for your time and energy. All of these areas added to experience and understanding of the Town Belt and made our anniversary a day to remember.

Planting of the anniversary Kahikatea treeAt the Woodhaugh Gardens finish line participants were able to relax, enjoy their lunch and reflect on their achievement of a walk well done. This was also the opportunity for a short speech from the Society’s Chairman Robin Hyndman and a welcome piece of anniversary cake. It was also an opportunity for our youngest participants to plant a Kahikatea tree in the Woodhaugh grounds. This is particularly important for the Society as we think of the future of the Town Belt, our city and our organisation. We must cultivate a new generation of young people who are passionate about Dunedin and its environment.  As Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate once said “If you plant trees you do an unselfish act. The benefits are not yours alone, but are in a measure common to all. You are not likely to see the trees you plant attain, their full strength and beauty. You are then, not working for yourselves, but for others, including those who are to come after you, and are doing a generous and public-spirited action.” With the numbers of young people and children we saw on Sunday the Society is heartened that this new generation will take up that challenge.

The Town Belt Traverse was a resounding success and an event that could become part of the regular calendar. It celebrates not just an old an venerable organisation like the Dunedin Amenities Society but one of the great reserve areas of our city. Something that we in Dunedin should cherish and be proud of because it defines our city, our landscape and our heritage. Thank you to all who participated and created a great day for the Society and themselves. The pictures below are from Antony Hamel, click on the pictures for gallery view

Climbing to the Top at Craigieburn

1Copy of Arb (16)

Students and tutors from the Otago Polytechnic Arboriculture course spent three days at Craigieburn undertaking some essential work on the reserve’s trees. The students removed deadwood and damaged branches from the large macrocarpa shelter belt in the main paddock. The programme is the second year of three-year partnership between the Otago Polytechnic and the Craigieburn Committee where the site is used for training purposes. Craigieburn Project Manager Paul Pope asked the students to put their climbing skills to the test and inspect some of the rimu canopies while he bravely gave words of encouragement from the forest floor. The trees range in age with the oldest being around 550 years old and the students inspected the trees for wind damage, disease and rot. Around 16 of the 52 rimu were climbed and in general all were in good condition. So we may get at least another 300-350 years from these wonderful trees. Otago Polytechnic Arboriculture tutor Matt Miller said that getting the chance to climb such old native trees in an urban context was a rare and an important opportunity for the students to experience. It was a real pleasure to have the students utilise their skills at Craigieburn and we look forward to having them back next year. Click on the pictures below for viewer.

The District Plan Review

A Conservation Conundrum

The Dunedin City Council is presently undertaking a review of the District Plan  and that review will mean that the Dunedin Amenities Society will also be looking at the implications of those changes. The review includes looking at creating a new open space, reserves and recreation zone which would “reflect the different types of open space and recreation areas.” The current District Plan does not recognise reserve, conservation or recreation areas as distinct entities, but rather classifies them within the zone of the surrounding land. The problem with that approach is that the activities and land use that is associated with reserve, conservation or recreation sites is often quite distinct to the surrounding land use zones. Reserve sites such as the Town Belt are often over-arched with a wider zone classification such as the “Urban Landscape Conservation Area.” Thus the rules of the District Plan override the legal protection status of the reserve under the Reserves Act 1977 without fully understanding the nature of the reserve or its values. This creates inherent problems for reserves like the  Town Belt when dealing with very real conservation management issues.

In one example the current District Plan actually hampers the ability of the Council to manage areas of high conservation significance. The rules (13.8.2) associated with the management of bush within Urban Landscape Conservation Areas have inadvertently protected the highly invasive Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). Vegetation removal in these zones is a discretionary activity, which is infinitely sensible as it protects flora and fauna on private land. However, under the District Plan the rule “does not apply where the plants to be removed are listed in any Regional Pest Plant Management Strategy applying to the district of Dunedin City.” Here lies the conservation conundrum because sycamore is not included in the Otago Regional Council’s Pest Plant Management Strategy (that’s a whole other post at a later time). Which means that under the current Urban Landscape Conservation Area rules sycamore becomes classified as “bush” and the removal of individual mature seed bearing sycamore cannot be undertaken without resource consent.

The Bureaucratic Paradox

For urban reserve sites like the Town Belt sycamore has serious ecological implications for the long-term health of the reserve. The most recent ecological assessment undertaken for the Town Belt stated that sycamore was a “most widespread and serious weed” that is able to “almost completely exclude other plants from the canopy, understory, and ground layer vegetation.”  The Dunedin Town Belt Management Plan is approved by the Minister of Conservation and is a publicly consulted document of management intent which includes weed control and particularly the removal of Sycamore from the reserve. It categorically states “weed control is the management issue of prime importance if the ecological values of the Town Belt are to be sustained. Regeneration of locally native canopy tree species is being inhibited across wide areas of the Town Belt. Without effective weed control, the medium to long-term outcome will be collapse of the native forest canopy. By undertaking a public management plan process under the Reserves Act 1977 the City Council has with the approval of the Minister of Conservation (granted in 2007) indicated rightly its intention to remove sycamore from the Town Belt. There is no rational or legal argument to impose restrictions on its removal from the reserve under the provisions of the District Plan through its own muddled rules.

It is quite clear to the Society in reading the current District Plan rules for Urban Landscape Conservation Areas that planners have not looked at the adverse effects of the rules in relation to the ecology of the Town Belt or other city reserves. In fact the rules actually create adverse ecological effects in relation to the removal of sycamore from reserves that fall within the Urban Landscape Conservation Areas . This is contrary to section 76(3) of the Resource Management Act 1991 which states “in making a rule, the territorial authority shall have regard to the actual or potential effect on the environment of activities including, in particular, any adverse effect.” What is also concerning is the lack of regard for the legal status of the Reserves Act 1977  and the Dunedin Town Belt Management Plan. Indeed the provisions of the Reserves Act 1977 is never mentioned in the current District Plan. Which shows that the current district Plan does not “have regard to any— management plans and strategies prepared under other Acts”  as it should under 74(b) of the Resource Management Act 1991. The question that the Society asks in this example is where was the synchronised and collegiate thinking in relation to the Town Belt and other reserves during their constant ecological struggles for survival from advancing invasion of pest plants like sycamore? Another thing to consider is how do these rules effect private landowners seeking to improve biodiversity on private property?

Heritage Lost?

Dunedin’s Town Belt is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserve sites that forms part of the historical and landscape fabric of the city since its first survey in 1848. The importance of the reserve in that historical landscape context makes it not only a pivotal conservation and recreation reserve but a heritage site of regional and national significance. However, the undue pressure being placed upon its fragile ecology by rules that do not complement its management are likely to seriously impede its long-term health and values. The Society can only hope that this new District Plan review will undertake to give life and regard to the legal mechanisms that are already in place for the betterment and protection of Dunedin’s reserve riches. Let’s hope that bureaucracy does not get in the way of real ecological management.