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Next-Level Ambassador Programme Wraps Up

Whangarei’s responsible freedom camping ambassadors have handed out their last camper information packs for the season, wrapping up a summer that took freedom camping management in the district to the next level.

“This is the second consecutive season of ambassador patrols for these community-minded volunteers, who this summer managed to deliver more of everything,” says Whangarei mayor, Sheryl Mai.

“Maintaining an evening presence at 16 of our most popular freedom camping sites - five more than last season - during an operational period extending three weeks longer, they doubled last summer’s freedom camping site visits to just over 1000 and increased information pack distribution by around 750 to approximately 3750.”

The ambassadors also collected data, answered questions and guided campers to responsible freedom camping practices. They worked closely with Council’s Armourguard enforcement officers who themselves doubled their daily patrols at targeted freedom camp sites over the peak freedom camping period.

“Both the ambassadors and officers reported a significant change in camper attitudes this season, the vast majority showing greater awareness of responsible camping behaviours,” Sheryl Mai says.

“Unfortunately, there are still a few who ignore or are ignorant of the appropriate actions, and we are grateful to the growing number of residents who reported them to Council, the ambassadors or enforcement officers.”

Although less than a third the number received prior to the programme beginning in 2018, freedom camping complaints rose slightly this summer, possibly due to the broader ambassador and officer coverage, a more comprehensive recording system and greater resident willingness to support responsible freedom camping in our district. Complaints ranged from resident reports of illegal camping activity to campers wanting more or improved freedom camping sites.

Meanwhile, some freedom campers have given back to their host communities this season as part of another next-level responsible camping programme initiative.

“This summer’s programme encouraged campers to be sustainable as well as responsible campers,” Sheryl Mai says.

“That means going beyond the ‘leave no sign of your stay’ responsible camping practices to making a positive contribution to the local economy, place or people where they stay, leaving them better off for their visit.”

Campers were encouraged to use commercial campgrounds regularly to support these businesses, and to shop local, donate time or money to local conservation groups, patronise tourist operations and pick up rubbish. The sustainable camping message was delivered through camper information packs, a media campaign and contact with ambassadors and enforcement officers, and was well received.

“As a trial initiative it received a favourable response from participating campers, campgrounds and businesses, and we hope to build on this aspect of the programme next season, should the funding be available,” Sheryl Mai says.

This summer’s responsible camping programme was funded by a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) grant made available to councils experiencing enormous strain on their infrastructure and resources in recent years due to a huge increase in freedom camper numbers.

“The grant also allowed us to upgrade infrastructure at some of our freedom camping spots and increase enforcement officer presence,” Mayor Mai says.

“In combination with the responsible camping ambassador and education programme, these measures comprised Council’s multi-faceted approach to freedom camping management that saw an improvement on last season’s efforts while leaving further room for improvement next season.

“I want to thank our responsible camping ambassadors for their part in that, and encourage them to take time themselves, now, to enjoy the remains of the summer they worked so hard to help our people and their visitors to enjoy.”

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