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Keep vehicles out of sand dunes

Environment Waikato is reminding motorcyclists and drivers of four-wheel drive vehicles to keep out of sand dunes on the region’s West Coast beaches for human safety and environmental reasons.

The appeal comes ahead of a traditionally busy summer holiday season period for the beaches.

Last year, EW also publicly appealed for caution after a series of incidents and near misses involving motorcycles, four-wheel drives and other beach users in dunes at Port Waikato, Raglan and Ruapuke.

This year reports of problems have been less frequent but there are still some significant safety and environmental issues, particularly at Port Waikato where a walking track is being frequented by motorcyclists, said EW’s community education facilitator Sam Stephens.

Mr Stephens said motorcycles and four-wheel drives in sand dunes were a potential recipe for disaster, particularly as more people take to the beaches over summer.

"Given our environmental protection role, we’re also concerned that the vehicles can damage the sensitive ecosystems on the dunes, threatening the stability of beaches, and can hurt birdlife.

"We ask motorcyclists and four-wheel drive owners to please stay out of the dunes because of the risk they present to people and the environment."

New Zealand’s dunes have had their native vegetation reduced to only 11 per cent of its original cover, mostly through the impact of human activities. Beachcare volunteers have been putting hundreds of hours each year into restoring these degraded dunes, and all this hard work can be undone in a single afternoon by vehicles being driven through these fragile areas, Mr Stephens said.

He said people were able to make complaints to police about anyone using bikes or four-wheel drives in a dangerous manner, and could also approach their local councils if they were concerned about environmental damage by vehicles.

"We advise people to get as many identifying details as they can to help police and councils follow up their complaints.

"Environment Waikato has set up a complaints register that is recording all the details of every complaint we receive about vehicles on our beaches. This is helping to provide a better picture of where the hotspot areas are in the Waikato region and who is involved."

Mr Stephens said local councils could provide motorcyclists, four-wheel drive owners and the public with further advice on what the specific rules are in their areas concerning vehicles on the coast.

"Different areas have varying rules about vehicles in coastal areas but all vehicle users are obliged to act in a safe way and need to be sensitive to their environmental impact."

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