Providing a blueprint for community-based restoration of difficult sand dune sites - September 2016


The Dunes Trust has just completed the second year of a 3-year project aimed at developing guidelines for dune restoration at difficult sites. This project involves working with local communities and landowners in the Waikato Region to restore severely degraded coastal dunes at difficult sites on the east and west coasts. The project is funded by the Department of Conservation’s Conservation Fund (formerly known as the Community Conservation Partnership Fund) in collaboration with Waikato Regional Council and local landowners and Beachcare groups.


Over the last two decades, significant progress has been made with restoration of degraded sand dunes using community based approaches. However, significant difficulties and failures have been experienced so this project focuses on:

  • Restoration of frontal and backdune environments on two severely degraded dunes on difficult, exposed, high energy dynamic west coast sites. One site is a large farm where stock access has led to serious degradation and wind erosion, with extensive mobile sand. The second site is a private camping ground where the natural dunes have been levelled, filled and grassed –with an adjacent shoreline presently experiencing severe wave erosion. The sites are typical of many difficult sites around NZ.
  • Restoration of two severely degraded weed-dominated backdune sites on the east coast. The sites, dominated by a wide range of dense garden weeds (agapanthus, arctotis, exotic ice plant, various exotic succulents, etc) are typical of degraded backdune environments at most developed coastal settlements around New Zealand. In addition, the projects will focus on working with adjacent private landowners who are critical players in successful restoration of these areas for a wide range of reasons.
  • Production of best practice guidelines for restoration of difficult sites based on the projects and other experience around New Zealand. These will provide detailed guidance on all elements relevant to successful restoration of difficult sites, including landowner involvement, site preparation, species selection, implementation, monitoring, maintenance, and costs.

The flagship sites

The project will deliver 4 “flagship” examples and detailed best practice guidelines to actively encourage and guide transformative dune restoration at similar difficult sites around New Zealand. The sites are all in the Waikato Region as follows:

  • Nukuhakari Station north of Awakino and south of Marokopa Beach
  • Seaview Campground midway between Awakino and Mokau
  • Eastern end of Cooks Beach, eastern Coromandel
  • Northern end of Whangapoua Beach, eastern Coromandel

The design of the “flagship” restoration projects and the subsequent preparation of guidelines will also draw on lessons from a wide range of other projects on the Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Kapiti, Tasman, and Pegasus Bay coasts.

Year 2 progress

Year 1 of the project involved the establishment of the first year of site preparation and planting programmes at each site in collaboration with the Waikato Regional Council and local landowners and Beachcare groups at each site. These early planting programmes have been assessed for performance during Year 2 and further planting has been undertaken at each site. Technical reports illustrated with photographs and graphics have been completed for Year 2 covering all sites and these are summarised below.

Seaview Motor Camp, Mokau

The Difficult Sites dune restoration project at Mokau extends along the seaward margin of the Seaview Motor Camp. The aim is to restore a naturally-vegetated dune over a width of at least 30 m - from the toe of the frontal dune through to the backdune. The dune restoration will include a spinifex-dominated frontal dune and a second more landward backdune area vegetated in appropriate native backdune vegetation (e.g. native vineland and rushland).

Restoration of the frontal dune is the key element being monitored as part of the Difficult Sites project. The more landward dune restoration will integrate back into the future developmentAt the start of the project, there was no existing natural foredune along most of the coastal margin; the original dunes having been levelled to form the flat grassed campground; the flat grassed area bordered along the seaward margin by trees and shrubs planted as a wind-break. The restoration is further complicated by a severe erosion phase (stillongoing), the high wind and wave energy of the site and limitations imposed on the restoration by the desire to maintain the maximum width of campground practicable in the interim and concerns regarding disturbing of possible Maori cultural sites within the dunes.

Typical view of the modified frontal dune in central areas of the site prior to restorationIn Year 2, the focus has been on completion of that restoration work, ongoing maintenance (planting and weed control) as required and periodic monitoring of the site and the ongoing erosion.

Year 2 work at the site included:

  • Further planting in late 2015 to repair wave over-topping damage
  • Weed control (conducted in early and late summer, autumn and late winter)
  • Design of the restoration works to complete restoration of the frontal dune over the full length of the site
  • Implementation of the restoration of the remaining areas of the frontal dune, including:
    • Earthworks to clear vegetation and restore more natural dune morphology;
    • And associated planning and liaison with councils and iwi.
  • Three separate site inspections to monitor the works (including plant performance, weed issues and erosion)

Restored area during planting in Year 2Several months later (August 2016)Nonetheless, the project has proved very challenging with a number of significant difficulties including:

  • Severe wave overtopping of the low dune during two separate coastal storm events; reflecting constraints on dune dimensions imposed by limitations on earthworks to form the dune.
  • Weed management issues
  • Issues relating to management of vegetation and wooden debris removed from the dunes prior to restoration.
  • Large volumes of litter and rubbish buried in the dunes which had to be appropriately disposed off-site
  • Concerns from one iwi group in relation to aspects of the works. The guidelines to be developed in Year 3 will cover all matters that need to be addressed in relation to protection of cultural sites, including lessons from this work to help minimise future disputes.
  • Ongoing erosion, which has narrowed the restored dune in some areas; particularly towards the northern end of the site. The guidelines to be prepared in Year 3 will discuss these and other matters with appropriate recommendations to avoid and minimise such issues.

Nukuhakari Station, west coast, Waikato

Nukuhakari Station is a large sheep and cattle farm located on the west coast north of Awakino and south of Marokopa Beach. It has landward migrating dunes lacking in vegetation cover associated with three bays exposed to the prevailing westerly winds. Stock access over many years has led to serious degradation and wind erosion, with extensive mobile sand dunes now covering several hectares comprising both frontal and backdune environments.

Location of the spinifex and pingao foredune planting trials comparing fertiliser types and the 2015-16 difficult site plantings at Nukuhakari Station, west coast North IslandNgararhae Bay (Middle Bay) comprises two actively moving sand dune sheets that dominate the local landscape covering an area of over 30 ha where wind-blown fine, black sands are engulfing pasture landward. Plantings in 2015 and 2016 comprised largescale planting along a very exposed northern section and establishment of fertiliser trials along the foredune some 20m above the high water mark at the southern portion of the dune field.

Koi carp a pest fish harvested from lakes of the lower Waikato by the Waikato Regional Council was available in pelletised form and was compared with the standard fertiliser practice at planting of using fertiliser tablets. Several rates of fertiliser for both koi carp and fertiliser tablets were tested for applying to each sand binder (spinifex and pingao) at planting in groups along the foredune.

Feb 2015 (above) overlooking the site (facing south) showing the main restoration area.By April 2016 further planting of spinifex and pingao as part of the Difficult Sites project has seen development of a spinifex dominated foredune that has added to the few previously planted spinifex toetoe forming a dune that has reduced landward migration of sand and allowing the landowner to attempt resowing pastureAssessment of the plantings completed in mid-2016 has seen a significant increase in growth of a foredune as a result of the planted sand binders, particularly spinifex. Some toetoe planted in previous years landward of the spinifex dune has also continued to grow and assist in dune development. The established zone of spinifex has reduced sand movement landward and has allowed the landowner to attempt to re-grass several hectares landward that comprised largely a cover of fill that had been placed there previously.

Planting of several thousand spinifex in 2015 and 2016 is well underway to forming a vegetation foredune and reducing sand movement landward. Targeting areas between existing vegetation to form a continuous zone of vegetation is proving successful.

Note the earlier planted spinifex in the background within the blowout is now surrounded by further plantings in 2015 and 2016.Overall, results indicate that koi carp gives a similar boost to growth of sand binders as the standard current practice of using slow-release fertiliser tablets. The substantial boost in growth by fertiliser compared to non-fertilised control plots is consistent with previous research and operational plantings over the last two decades for pingao (Bergin and Herbert 1998) and spinifex (Bergin 1999).

Establishment of the fertiliser trials as part of the Difficult Sites project in collaboration with the Waikato Regional Council and landowners on the Nukuhakari Station dunes.5 months after planting in early 2016.Planting in 2016 has continued to increase the zone of foredune vegetation adding to earlier successful plantings.

Planting August 2016 - Landowners Hamish and Bridget Nelson (fore-ground) getting stuck into the planting. The trial blocks were laid out prior to planting to ensure the correct planting pattern and even distribution of seedlings across the site was achieved.The focus of work in Year 3 for the Nukuhakari site will include:

  • Planting of sand binders to fill in any gaps remaining within the foredune
  • Planning for planting of backdune species immediately landward of the spinifex dominated foredune targeting marram dominated sites to provide shelter for interplanted natives
  • Weed control particularly of natural pohuehue to reduce rank grass
  • Monitoring of up to 3 years of planting, analysing results and incorporating information into the guidelines for restoration of difficult sites.

Difficult Sites Project – Eastern Coromandel Sites – Year 2

As part of this project the eastern Coromandel project sites have expanded and now include locations at Whangapoua, Whitianga, Cooks Beach, Tairua, Pauanui and Whangamata.

The project sites at each of these locations consist of frontal dune areas dominated by dense exotic vegetation communities and other areas where the original dune had been bulldozed at levelled at the time of development and then grassed, often with a clay/fill cap. At most locations the degraded dunes are also directly backed by private beachfront properties.

These sites are typical of degraded dune sites at urban/resort communities, particularly along the eastern coast of the North Island but also elsewhere. As outlined in the Year 1 report, the restoration at all eastern Coromandel sites was undertaken as part of the Waikato Beachcare programme; a partnership between Waikato Regional Council (WRC), Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) and the local resident and absentee communities. Similar work at Whiritoa Beach in partnership with WRC and Hauraki District Council will also be reviewed as part of the final guidelines.

Year 2 progress is summarised for Whangapoua Beach and Cooks Beach. Details on progress for the other Coromandel beaches now part of this project are provided in the Year 2 progress report.

Whangapoua Beach

Restoration work towards end of Year 1.Year 2.Initial project work at Whangapoua Beach in Year 1 focused on the northern end of the beach, restoring a natural frontal dune over the full width of the reserve back to private properties behind. Prior to restoration the area was dominated by dense exotic vegetation.

Details of the Year 1 work and earlier restoration in this area were included in the Year 1 report. The work has been very successful as views of the site from the end of Year 1 and Year 2 illustrate.

The focus of work in Year 3 will include:

  • Extension of dune restoration into private properties at 2-3 sites
  • Introduction of further diversity into the Year 1 plantings at the northern end of the beach
  • Monitoring all project and related work at Whangapoua prior to preparation of guidelines
  • Project reporting

Cooks Beach

Year2: before restorationYear 2: after spraying and earthworks and during plantingYear 2: after plantingProject work at Cooks Beach has focused on frontal dune areas at both the eastern and western ends of the beach as outlined in the Year 1 report. In Year 2, restoration work continued at both ends of the beach. At the eastern end, the restoration work focused on a severely eroded grassed reserve towards the very eastern end of the beach near Purangi Estuary.

The works involved removal of pine trees, spraying of the grassed areas, reshaping and earthworks and plantings. As with the work at Whitianga, the restoration was undertaken near the peak of the erosion cycle to ensure a sustainable width of dune after future erosion cycles. The restored area is expected to accrete seaward by at least 10-15m over the next few years as the shoreline has now moved back into an accretion cycle. However, there will be further erosion cycles in the future and so it is important to design the dune to accommodate these.

The restoration works at the western end of the beach focused on the area where restoration commenced in Year 1 – improving plant density and biodiversity within the area. In Year 2, sand pimelea planting eco-sourced from local populations was also used to extend the remnant local areas of this species.

In addition, Year 1 and earlier restoration work was also regularly inspected and monitored over the year, looking at growth rates, plant cover, diversity, performance of different species and any weed invasion or pest animal issues. Regular weed control was also conducted over the year.

 Cooks eastern project area towards the end of Year 1.Towards the end of Year 2.In Year 3, work will focus on further restoration at both eastern and western ends, ongoing monitoring, ongoing weed control and reporting.

CEF Back dune restoration project - July 2016

The Dunes Trust is undertaking a 3-year project to develop national community-based guidelines for monitoring coastal sand dunes and restoration programmes. The aim is to provide those involved in restoration and interested in monitoring the state of our dunes scientifically robust, easy-to-use guidelines to determine whether restoration outcomes are meeting objectives. This includes Coastcare groups, schools and managing agencies in regions nationwide. This project is partially funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s Community Environment Fund with cofunding and support from the Dunes Trust and its research partners including councils, the Department of Conservation and Coast Care groups.


There has been excellent progress during the last few months of mid-2016 in refining monitoring methods in consultation with community groups, iwi and management agency representatives. Various dune monitoring methods developed to date for characterising dune form and vegetation cover have been evaluated and tested during field-based workshops and demonstrations in Northland and the Bay of Plenty. This has included local community and marae representatives at the Mapere Block; Ahipara, Taipa Beach, Far North; Ruakaka south of Whangarei with Northland Regional Council; and with Papamoa College and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Transects from 10-80 m long have been established at each site representative of dune profiles, proximity to sea and vegetation cover from backdune to foredune zones comprising trees and shrubs to sand binding grasses and including both exotic and native flora. Sampling along transects comprises identification of the dominant plant species within a 20 cm diameter hoop at 1 m intervals along each transect demarcated by a tape. Data from each transect has been recorded for analysis for comparison across site.

Papamoa College

In June substantial progress was made with 30 Year 12 students from Papamoa College in collaboration with the Bay of Plenty Coast Care Programme evaluating transect sampling across foredune and backdunes at Papamoa Beach. This including evaluation of hoop sampling ring-size vs point-intercept methods using multiple observers across the 4 transects each approximately 50 m long. Two transect methods compared:

  • Dunes Trust community based method - point/hoop intercept method comprising five sample sizes - point, 2.5cm, 5cm, 10cm, 20cm.
  • Cover class method transect established by Science Department of Papamoa College - 2 square plots - 1 and 2 meter square (using metal grid) subjective cover methods with the transect method developed as part of this project along 4 transects

Dune profiling was also undertaken. A comprehensive monitoring guide with brief background, customised fieldsheets including species identification guide were developed for this student-led project in collaboration with Science HOD and other teaching staff, and project partners Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

Data from the Papamoa College field work is currently being analysed. A comparision of sample hoop sizes at other sites in collatoration with the Waitohu Sand Dune Coastcare Group in the Wellington region is planned for later in the year.

Previous updates and getting involved

For further information on this project check out the updates provided on the Dunes Trust website

We have already identified and initiated project planning with some Coast Care groups and managing agencies in several regions for setting up and testing methods for monitoring both dune condition and restoration activities. If your group or agency is keen to be involved in this project please contact the Dunes Trust Coordinator ( or the Project Manager David Bergin (

March 2016 - CEF Developing community-based monitoring guidelines for coastal sand dunes

On-site field demonstration of proposed monitoring methods on dunes of Caroline Bay, Timaru with staff from the Timaru District Council. Project partners including councils and Coast Care groups nationwide are involved in evaluating and refining quantitative methods for assessing dune vegetation cover and condition.Background

This project works with community groups, councils and other interest groups to develop a range of scientifically robust and easy-to-use methods to monitor effectiveness of dune restoration and changes in the state of the dune environment over time.

The 3-year project involves several components:

1. Consultation with coastal communities and managing agencies:

  • identifying needs and questions to be addressed by coastal dune monitoring.
  • determining priorities for solutions.
  • assessing issues and practicalities for effective community-based monitoring.

2. Existing monitoring methods:

  • identifying and reviewing the range of dune monitoring work presently conducted nationwide and elsewhere including relevant research.
  • buildinging on recent Envirolink review, evaluate relevant monitoring approaches used in other ecosystems.
  • identifying strengths and weaknesses of existing approaches with participating communities, interest groups and managing agencies.

3. Design and trial practical field-based monitoring methods:

  • In collaboration with communities and agencies the project involves designing and validating a range of methods for monitoring dune condition and state (e.g. dune vegetation communities, indigenous biodiversity, degree of human disturbance, impact of animal browsing, weeds).
  • This includes easy-to-use systematic methods and indicators identifying and helping prioritise areas of degradation, threats and restoration options.
  • Monitoring will comprise trialling and reviewing at a minimum of 30 sites nationwide.

4. Design and development of system(s) for data management:

  • building and/or aligning where possible with existing appropriate data management systems (including NatureWatch) including storage, retrieval, analysis, interpretation with specialist web-based database developers.
  • liaising with coastal communities and agencies for rapid and simple web based system for recoding site and plant measurements, and accessing results.
  • designing datasheets and templates for online and field usage.

5. Technology transfer

  • publish a scientifically robust guide in the form of two articles for the Dunes Trust Coastal Restoration Handbook aimed at 1) quantifying the current status of dunes, and 2) determining whether restoration programmes are meeting objectives (including data storage, analysis) and make available online on Dunes Trust and relevant management agency websites.
  • minimum of 6 field based consultative workshops per year setting up and undertaking monitoring using different methods.
  • project progress updates for newsletters and websites for Dunes Trust, local Coast Care, councils, project partners.

Year 1 progress

  • The Step-Point Method under development and refinement at the transition between the ground cover zone and the shrub zone on a backdune, Cooks Beach, Coromandel.Field-based workshop, consultation and liaison in the development and testing of robust but user-friendly monitoring methods has been undertaken in regions from Northland to south Canterbury. This has included councils, DOC and local coast care and beach care groups in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Christchurch and Timaru.
  • A review of existing monitoring guidelines used in other ecosystems has been completed and information is being used in the development of a dunes monitoring system. These guides include the Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Kit (WETMAK), the Stream Health Monitoring and Assessment Kit (SHMAK), the Estuary Monitoring Toolkit, Mangrove Monitoring Kit, and Forest Monitoring and Assessment Kit (FORMAK).
  • A range of other monitoring methods used at the science and large scale survey level were also reviewed such as the RECCE method for decribing NZ vegetation, natural environment regional monitoring programmes and transect surveys, the NZ carbon monitoring system, and sand dune inventories.
  • For assessing dune condition including vegetation cover, dune profiles, and impacts of users and pest animals, a Step-Point Method has been developed and field tested. This is based on Ian Atkinson’s method he developed for surveying open vegetation communities on volcanic dunes in the central North Island.
  • The dunes version developed and under testing as part of this project involves recording the dominant species at fixed intervals along transects perpendicular to the shore using a 20 cm sampling hoop. The sampling point distance along transects can vary according to the degree of variation and complexity of vegetation cover and the width of the dune sampled.
  • Developing user-friendly methods for measuring dune restoration initiatives including performance of plantings and effectiveness of maintenance of weed growth and pest animal control are under development.
  • The design of an easy-to-use interactive system for data management for Coast Care groups and management agencies has been initiated and progressing this will be a major the focus in the second year of the project.

Easy-to-use methods for monitoring success of planting programmes by Coast Care groups is also under development

How you can become involved?

We have already identified and initiated project planning with some Coast Care groups and managing agencies in several regions for setting up and testing methods for monitoring both dune condition and restoration activities. If your group or agency is keen to be involved in this project please contact the Dunes Trust Coordinator ( or the Project Manager David Bergin (

New funding application to Community Conservation Partnership Fund successful

We have recently received news of this successful application.

The Trust works closely with the full gamut of stakeholders with interests in the coastal environment. This funding will enable the Trust to extend this by:

  • Linking Coast Care groups and affected landowners with relevant public agencies, funding bodies and subject matter specialists.
  • Encouraging inter-group interactions and workshops.
  • Encouraging stakeholder networking by organising field trips and on-site “show and tells”.
  • Training and resourcing groups in technical best practice, the recruitment and retention of volunteers, resource management legislation, project management and fundraising.
  • Promoting best practice with local authorities, including providing support to existing Coast Care coordinators, to ensure consistent, high quality and latest information transfer.
  • Assisting groups with their interactions with the public, landowners, iwi and public agencies.
  • Complementing and enhancing the existing Coast Care coordinator roles in collaboration with agencies in regions where these occur.