Ian Scobie readily admits his mangrove-clearing mission started illegally.
When the former boatbuilder moved to Waiuku 14 years ago, he was disappointed the estuary behind his house was completely blocked off by a thick wall of mangroves, so he started cutting. Things quickly escalated.
“Originally, I just started making a little patch, and then I thought if I just cut a narrow strip out to the channel, I could take my kayak out,” he says.
Scobie would clear the mangroves, then burn the branches in his backyard. His clandestine mission had to end after a neighbour, angry that their washing was coming back smelling of smoke, reported him to the council.
“The council came out and said, ‘You’ve been a bit of a naughty boy. You’ve got to stop’,” he says.
The experience inspired Scobie to take his mission to the masses. He set up a petition in Waiuku’s main street asking residents whether they would support clearing some of the mangroves that had come to dominate the three strands of the Waiuku River surrounding the town.
He got 97 per cent support for his cause. Before long, a band of locals were committed to making the petition’s goal a reality. They called themselves The Mudlarks.
The group initially got council consent to clear 9ha of mangroves. They set to work, cutting the plants with chainsaws at low tide, then carrying the wood away on a barge at high tide.
It was arduous, physical work, but Scobie, in particular, threw himself into it with unwavering dedication, arriving before anyone else and cutting for four or five hours as many mornings as he could.
“I’ve sort of been more of a worker than a thinker,” he says. “I’m a builder and a boatbuilder, a farmer.
"When I retired, no way was I going to sit around waiting for God. So I had to find something to do. And once I started down there, that’s when the obsession took over.
Decade of dedication
It’s been 10 years since The Mudlarks formed. In that time, they’ve put 45,321 man-hours into their work clearing 24.6ha of mangroves.
They’ve worn through 17 chainsaws (the council now gives them $10,000 a year to help with maintenance), built a wooden bridge, and most importantly, radically changed the look of the Waiuku estuaries.
Residents can now access their waterway. Boats, once cut off, are now seen regularly in the river near the town.
In 2015, The Mudlarks got consent to clear 75ha of mangroves over 30 years. The group will be around for decades yet, though Scobie himself is starting to cut back on his own work.
To honour his efforts, his fellow Mudlarks made him a plaque. It had pictures of them at work in the estuaries, next to some inscribed words that apply to him. It reads "A magnificent obsession."
He, like many Aucklanders understand that if you love where you live and want to improve it, you need to put in some effort.
Live Local. Love Local. Be a part of it!
In April we are highlighting examples of the council and the community coming together to drive positive local change – focusing on local diversity, how empowered communities are shaping the future of their neighbourhoods, making the most of local amenities and facilities, as well as caring for their environment and those who are struggling through tough times.
Read all about it at ourauckland.nz/lovelocal