'The Gap', now officially a Significant Natural Area

A special biodiversity project is underway at Westshore.

To the untrained eye, a block of vacant land sprawling between Napier’s  Westshore Esplanade and Highway 2, adjacent to the airport, looks like a weedy wasteland – ripe for development perhaps?

But looks are deceptive. This little block of land is a historic, botanic treasure trove offering a rare chance to re-create a Hawke’s Bay coastal ecosystem as it might once have been. 

Nicknamed ‘The Gap’ by locals, the land is the size of ten house sites and is a protected zone that forms part of the airport’s cross runway, established in the 1960’s and owned by Napier City and Hastings District Councils.

 Restrictions on the height of buildings and plants on the prime waterfront site has meant it has been left to its own devices. Ironically it’s because it hasn’t been touched for so long that the 8000m2 plot is now identified by the Napier City Council as a Significant Natural Area (SNA) and referred to officially as ‘Esplanade Herbfield’. 

Pimelea Pinatoro

While planes have zoomed above, cars and trains rushed by and exotic species like the yellow ghanzia daisy and ubiquitous agapantha run rampant, one of New Zealand’s nationally vulnerable coastal plant species Pimelea Pinatoro has clung to life at The Gap site along with a handful of natives that are now rare or uncommon. 

Restoration ecologist Kay Griffiths says the site is significant, so close to Napier, and with very high biodiversity values. “Try and find a coastal site in Hawke’s Bay that has a remnant of plants like this left,” she says. “It is the sole representative of this vegetation type and a shingle beach ecosystem, and potentially provides habitat for indigenous invertebrates.” 

Ecologist Marie Taylor, first to identify the botanical importance of The Gap.

It was another ecologist, Marie Taylor, managing director of Plant Hawke’s Bay,  who first recognised The Gap’s importance some years ago when she took a walk on it and discovered the small, pretty bluey-green Pimela – a Sand Daphane which has white flowers in summer.  

Marie is now growing the Pimelea from seed collected at The Gap and has provided other extremely rare coastal natives for the site such as nationally threatened Muehlenbeckia ephedroides (Leafless pohuehue), and the “at risk” Coprosma acerosa (Sand Coprosma). 

“Most of our coastline, particularly in Hawke’s Bay, has been modified by housing, engineering, damaged by quad bikes and vehicles, stock and feral animals,”  says Marie. “This is a rare chance to restore a shingle ecosystem.”  

Biodiversity Hawkes Bay has got behind a project to develop the site with Kay Griffiths as ecological adviser and sponsorship funding from Hawke’s Bay Airport Ltd. Other groups have also got on board: the local Westshore Residents and Development Association, Te Taiwhenua o Te Whanganui ā Orotu, Napier and Hastings councils, Napier Forest and Bird, plus Ahuriri Sunrise Rotary Club and Sacred Heart College Interact group.

Debbie Monahan, general manager of Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay says this is a fantastic opportunity for local groups and businesses to get involved. “So often significant sites like these are more inland, off the beaten track and harder to get to.”

The first work at the Gap has been to mark and count over two hundred different plants on site. Weed control work has since begun to remove inappropriate exotics and weeds like cotoneaster, bone seed, banksia trees, agapanthus and in particular, the rampant gazania – a hardy yellow South African daisy that Marie Taylor says was planted for the Queen’s visit in the 1960s, and “is now extremely hard to get rid of”.

The site has been divided into six different sections A-F with different community groups looking after each section and two in particular targeted for  initial weed control and planting this year.  

“A key part of weed control is hand weeding around the marked native plants,” says Debbie Monahan  “This is something that everyone can assist with to ensure the plants already there are protected from further weed invasion and can grow.”  

There are plans to have a launch and/or blessing and proper naming of the site; there will also be public weeding and planting days and eventually signage erected. Keep watch at https://www.biodiversityhb.org/

If you are a local group, school or business and interested in being involved, email Debbie Monahan, general manager, Biodiversity Hawke’s Bay on gm@biodiversityhb.nz

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