By 3 News online staff
Access to a 1.7km section of beach on the Pencarrow Coast has been restricted temporarily to help protect the nesting site of a rare New Zealand bird.
The restriction was put in place today by Taranaki Whanui kaumatua on Pencarrow Coast Rd between the lighthouse and the eastern end of Lake Kohangapiripiri beach, where a small colony of banded dotterel are trying to breed above the high tide mark.
Wellington Regional Council environmental scientist Nikki McArthur says the colony is one of the largest of only a handful of coastal breeding colonies in the Wellington region, with about 20 pairs on the site.
"Unfortunately this population is under considerable pressure at the moment, with only 3 percent of nests successfully hatching chicks over the past two years."
Vehicle access along the 9km Pencarrow Coast Rd and walking access to and around the lighthouse is still possible, but the public have been asked to keep to the road and walking on the beach below the high tide mark.
Ms McArthur says dotterel nests are hard to spot and the restrictions will stay in place until February.
"If people do need to use the road or areas around the sites we ask them to leave their dogs at home, heed the signs and take special care not to disturb the birds."
Monitoring of the site done by the council last year, which included filming nests, found hedgehogs were the main predator as well as feral cats.
The temporary restrictions, or rāhui, are normally used to manage fisheries and define an area as special or sacred for a period of time.
But kaumatua Sam Jackson says the nesting site is worth protecting.
"This small creature known to Māori as pohowera is special because it is native to Aotearoa and this is one of only a few sites within our rohe (a tangata whenua area) where they still breed.
"By placing a rāhui over this important site, we are doing our bit to ensure the dotterel will still be around for our mokopuna (grandchildren). It is our duty to place and honour this rāhui and is a blessing that we are still able to do this," he says.
A number of organisations including the Council Mainland Island Restoration Organisation, Hutt City Council and Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust have recently intensified a long-standing predator control programme throughout the wider Parangarahu Lakes area and will continue to monitor the site over the coming season.
The wider area is managed by the Roopu Tiaki, which has representatives from both the regional council and the trust.