The first person to be prosecuted for entering closed tracks in the Waitākere Ranges has been found guilty on two charges in relation to three breaches of the council’s Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw.
The tracks have been closed since May 2018 to protect kauri trees, some of them hundreds of years old, from the spread of kauri dieback disease.
Robert Armitstead’s case was heard before Judge Lisa Tremewan who rejected the defence argument that the track on which he walked was not part of a park as claimed by the defendant.
She went on to confirm that the Council’s closure of any part of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park to the public was valid, and Mr Armitstead was therefore not entitled to be there.
Judge Tremewan added that Mr Armitstead’s claim that he had thought the park signage prohibiting entry was a mistake could have been easily clarified in a variety of ways, but he seemed resolute about his view of the matter and what he considered himself entitled to do.
The verdict follows Mr Armitstead previously entering a guilty plea in September 2020 to another charge of entering a closed track in breach of the same bylaw.
Chair of Environment and Climate Change Committee, Richard Hills welcomed the court’s verdict in finding the defendant guilty.
“This is the last thing we want to do, take legal action; we would prefer hikers and walkers respect the rules and stay on the open tracks. But if they fail to, we will use every tool possible to protect our native taonga, we only get one chance.
“The prohibition placed on using certain tracks was imposed to stop the spread of kauri dieback disease, which if not checked, could wipe out our Auckland kauri forests.
“These trees, many of them ancient, are a legacy we want to leave for future generations. Council took this prosecution after the individual was repeatedly warned not to use the track.
“Most Aucklanders are doing the right thing and staying on the open tracks. However, we have had to issue 139 trespass notices and 168 warnings because some people don’t seem to care about the consequences of their actions and the effects these have on the environment and the rest of the community.
“We’ve reopened 72 kilometres of tracks in our regional and local parks after making them safe from kauri dieback disease, with 34 regional park and 22 local parks track upgrades completed and more openings expected in the Waitākere Ranges before Easter. So, there’s absolutely no excuse for going into closed areas.”
Edward Ashby, Board Chair for Te Kawerau Iwi Investment Trust reflects on the Court’s ruling, saying, “It is most unfortunate that it has come to the point of a prosecution following repeated breaches of the track closure and the rāhui. However, Te Kawerau ā Maki support the action taken by Council and believe that this is yet another example of the need for all of us to come together to protect our ngahere for the benefit of all.
“The forest remains tapu for a reason – it needs time to heal. The vast majority of our Waitākere communities are demonstrating patience and are doing all they can to work with us and with Council to protect this treasure through the track openings and other efforts. Unfortunately, there will always be those individuals who put themselves above the collective efforts of others,” says Mr Ashby.
Mr Armitstead was remanded to reappear in the Waitākere District Court for sentencing on 21 May.
Find out more about Auckland Council’s work to protect kauri: aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/protectkauri