Project Ecologist for the Kawatiri Coastal Trail, Richard Nichol has been involved since the very early, feasibility assessment stage of the project through to present day. His work involves field survey of the ecology. For example, the flora and fauna through which the Trail is proposed, documenting the findings, and ensuring the impact on these features is minimised. Richard is also involved in discussions with the work crew, about the practical aspects which relate to ecology.
Richard is a frequent user of the Trail, both on foot and by bike, and at times his cool electric skateboard. We caught up with Richard to hear more about what sets the Trail’s natural environment apart from others, how his work benefits the coastal wildlife and community, and what Trail users can do to protect and conserve the environment.
Photo: Richard Nichol – Project Ecologist (Mount Somers)
Aspects of the flora and fauna along the Trail are unique. What sets this natural environment apart from others in the area / region?
I think one of the really exciting things about the Trail, is that it takes the biker or walker through untamed natural areas which were previously inaccessible or under appreciated. To have this so close to Westport is extra special. This will result in a great introduction and ownership to be fostered, especially for younger trail-users.
You’ve had input in the interpretation panels along the Trail. How do the panels contribute to the Trail user experience?
I think they help to build a connection for the user. Whether that be a greater understanding of the history of the people who came before us. Or of the interconnectedness of all the pieces of the natural jigsaw. This in turn can help build a connection for someone on the Trail, and maybe inspire them to get involved in some way. That might be through tree-planting, photography, or just being active in the environment.
Can you tell us a little about how your ecology work benefits the coastal wildlife and community?
The work on the Trail has resulted in the finding of some really interesting plant and animal species. Some we didn’t realise were even still around. That’s enormously rewarding and exciting. And when you uncover something like that, you start thinking about how we best enhance the environment to ensure they thrive. Getting the community involved, wherever possible, is an important aspect too. That might be putting out nesting boxes for blue penguins, or having the schools involved in tree-planting or something similar.
Photo: Students from Westport North School attend a Whenua Iti Nature Connection Programme
What can Trail users do to help protect and conserve the Trail environment?
Locals might like to get involved with community events that will enhance areas along the Trail. Tree-planting happens every year during conservation week (September 10th at Carters Beach this year). Someone might like to start up a new community group, to adopt a section of the Trail, and help maintain or enhance the environment around it.
Pest-control or tree-planting is always valuable. Simply reporting interesting observations can be invaluable. That might be reporting an invasive species we don’t know about to the Trust or having input to citizen science apps like iNaturalist or the New Zealand bird atlas on eBIRD.
It’s also important to not bring dogs on the Trail. There are too many bird species that may be harmed or disturbed by an excited dog.
You previously told us the boardwalk sections of Pūwaha, and sinuous limestone trail through the forest on the Omau Section were favourites. Has that changed with the opening of the Tauranga and Waitakere Sections?
They’re still favourites, but they keep getting added too. I love the Trail along Tauranga Bay through to Nine Mile Road. The section through the Ōkari catchment is going to be spectacular.
Prior to Covid-19 you hosted cycle-tourists from around New Zealand and the world. Will you return to this now borders are open?
I’ve still been getting the occasional stray coming through. I always tell them they must come to Carters Beach via the Kawatiri Coastal Trail. They’re always thrilled with how great it is. And why wouldn’t they be!
Photo credit: Trudy Harrington – Section 4 (Tauranga)