The splendidness of our very own Ambury Regional Park has been recognised yet again, this time at the 2022 New Zealand Recreation Awards, winning the award for outstanding park in Aotearoa.
The win is something that delighted Councillor Richard Hills, Chair of Auckland Council’s Planning, Environment and Parks Committee.
“Ambury Regional Park is an incredible and unique park that so many Aucklanders love. It is a real taonga for Tāmaki Makaurau, balancing the protection of significant natural and cultural sites with providing a diverse range of recreation opportunities and also functioning as an educational working farm. A huge congratulations to all our staff and the volunteers who have helped make Ambury Regional Park the best in Aotearoa.”
Taryn Crewe, Auckland Council’s General Manager for Parks and Community Facilities agrees, saying that the award is one of many recently won by the regional park.
“Ambury Regional Park received a silver award at the 2020 International Large Urban Parks Awards. It was the only park in the southern hemisphere to be recognised that year. Ambury has also been awarded multiple Green Flag Awards throughout the years. It shows that the efforts of our staff are delivering world-class parks that all Aucklanders can enjoy any time.” – source
Here are some excerpts from the application made for the 2022 New Zealand Recreation Awards.
Ambury Regional Park (Ambury Farm) is a large urban park that successfully balances the protection of significant natural and cultural sites with the increasing pressure of urbanisation.
Ambury offers over 400,000 visitors per year a diverse range of recreation opportunities such as walking, mountain biking, picnicking, camping and education, as well as a number of annual formal events.
Ambury has been developed as an education centre that annually sees over 8,000 school children attend the park to experience hands-on learning about farming, animals, food and conservation in formal curriculum based programmes.
Informal opportunities for the public to interact with the farm and its animals are also offered. Visitors can view cow milking, sheep shearing and assist with lamb feeding. New innovations include the accessible laneways that lead you through and alongside the many farm animals. As demand and visitor numbers grow, future plans are to extend these lanes and to incorporate a wider variety of farm animals.
Ambury is a giant outdoor classroom and opportunities flourish for outdoor play and a chance to learn with all the senses. Simple innovations include leaving branches in plantings for children to build huts, a huge grassy mound that entertains games of hide and seek, a place to pick long grass to feed the horses and even a place where you can find frogs and worms. The insect garden is another new addition with piles of rocks, branches and native plantings to attract and enhance native insects for visitors to experience and learn through interpretation.
Ambury also offers camping as another way for people to relax and connect with nature. The campground has gone from a bare grazing paddock to a lovely planted setting with room for 60 people to camp and a large open space for family games.
The above innovations and developments are ways in which Ambury Farm has been able to combine both the operational needs of farming and education in a collaborative way.
Over the years staff have observed how park users would like to use the park and planned new facilities accordingly. For example, when families began using the trees to string up nets to play volleyball, staff set up three sets of volleyball posts which are now in hot demand. Observing and responding to how people want to get active and connect with nature provides the best opportunities for innovation and improvement at the park.
Local Community Engagement
Ambury is nestled in the Māngere Bridge community and well visited by locals, who use the park for recreation, family gatherings, exercise, education and an opportunity to connect with nature.
Many of the families that live in the neighbouring suburbs of South Auckland are on low incomes with socioeconomic challenges. Ambury provides the opportunity for access to free recreation activities, exercise areas, education opportunities and community support.
The park is well supported by local volunteers who contribute over 3,600 hours to activities such as the well established pest control programme, animal husbandry, planting days and events such as Ambury Farm Day.
Ambury has a dedicated volunteer group known as ‘Friends of the Farm’. This group contributes time to the park for activities such as:
- waste wise initiatives
- regular beach clean ups
- community orchard working bees
- mangrove seedling removal
- providing opportunities for families to have free, simple fun at the farm
The local Māngere Bridge Kindergarten visits the park on Monday mornings. Children spend the morning exploring the park, going to their favourite spots and undertaking tasks such as planting, clean-ups and lamb feeding. The children are then walked back to kindergarten through the connecting paths with the park. Spanning 10 years, this programme is a great example of education outside of the classroom and education about the environment.
Local schools also frequent the farm on self-guided visits providing the opportunity for children to learn and connect with nature. Ambury is a hugely valuable outdoor and environmental education resource for the Māngere community and the wider Auckland region.
The Ambury ranger team provides support and resources to the community by regularly assisting local children with school projects, clubs and businesses with event organisation or providing support to the wider region in areas such as wildlife oil response.
Ambury Farm Day is Auckland Council’s highest attended, free, annual event and attracts over 30,000 visitors. Focussed on showcasing the farming heritage of the park, it provides family, friendly activities at no or low cost, which enables wide participation.
The event is run by the Regional Parks team and is supported by local groups:
- Girl Guides
- Māngere Mountain Education Centre
- Local marae
- Māngere Kindergarten
- Ambury Park Riding for the Disabled
- Māngere Bridge Pony Club.
These groups have a chance to fundraise at the event by either running an activity or selling food to visitors.
Ambury is a multi award winning park that has received the international Green Flag Award (which sets the benchmark for excellence in park management around the world) from 2017 to 2020.
Ambury was a silver winner for the World Urban Parks – Large Urban Park award in 2020. It was the only Southern Hemisphere park to be recognised in the 2020 awards and joined Chicago’s Millennium Park, Kuala Lumpur’s City Centre Park, Abu Dhabi’s Al Ain Oasis and Istanbul’s Ataturk Kent Orman in receiving the highest award given out for the year.
The park provides a variety of opportunities for scientific research and interaction with nature and is a great example of how open space can combine a natural experience with active farming within a city environment. Staff have learned how to engage with the community to ensure recreation and conservation are both valued at the park.
Ambury stands out in its uniqueness, balancing functioning as a working farm, a recreational destination, a significant habitat for shore birds and housing various ecological sites. The park continues to demonstrate excellence and leadership in its vision of collaboration with the connected and adjoining landscapes, and is developing an integrated management plan that will ensure the protection of the intrinsic, natural and cultural landscape values and recreation for the enjoyment and benefit of the people of the region.
Ambury also has a future vision that is representative of mana whenua and provides opportunities for cultural connections. Ambury currently is representative of New Zealand’s colonial history through its farming operations and now has an exciting opportunity to balance the scales through a cultural lens.
Ambury will continue to provide all the benefits of open space in the city and work collaboratively in the vision of what could be the Auckland Council’s biggest regional park network, in the heart of South Auckland.
Ambury Regional Park is one of the busiest parks within Auckland Council’s Regional Park network and it grows in popularity each year. In 18 years visitor numbers have quadrupled from 100,000 in 2003/04 to 400,000 in 2019/20.
Well connected to nearby areas of park land, the significant future goal for Ambury is creating an integrated management plan that encompasses the adjoining parks of Te Motu a Hiroa/Puketutu Island (Auckland Council’s newest regional park) and Otuataua Stonefields (Auckland’s largest remaining historic reserve).
The plan will provide connectivity for recreation and conservation values while integrating and protecting cultural landscapes in partnership with local iwi.
Linking Ambury to the Otuataua Stonefields is the Watercare Coastal Walkway, a significant ecological area. Over the years this area has undergone significant transformation from oxidation ponds that were closed to the public, to an area that is highly valued for its conservation and recreational values and opportunities.
Ambury staff are working collaboratively to achieve future goals with extensive pest and weed control, advocacy, managing demand for recreational events and developing education and partnerships around wader birds.
Future projects to expand on existing facilities are planned which include a larger, more accessible toilet block and the relocation of the ranger workshop to free up space in the main recreational area and creating new spaces for families to gather in diverse ways, recognising there are cultural differences in how people like to spend their time at Ambury.
As Auckland grows and becomes more densely populated, places like Ambury and connecting landscapes in the urban setting become key for the well-being of people and the protection and preservation of unique landscapes for future generations.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
Ambury works very closely with its community including other stakeholders and land managers within the area. Support is given in numerous ways i.e., ranger time to assist with the rejuvenation of local waterways, donations for prizes in local fundraising raffles and pig food sourced from local cafes.
One of the most important relationships is with Watercare who currently have a lease to occupy the foreshore land on the south-eastern boundary of the park. Ambury rangers work closely with Watercare in this area, with skills and expertise supporting their financial input to ensure this significant ecological area is appropriately managed.
Watercare provides all pest control traps and financial support for weed control contracts while the Ambury Rangers and park volunteers provide the expertise for checks, audits and prioritising the areas where work is carried out.
Ambury is a well-established park, alongside the hustle and bustle of the surrounding area, which hosts Auckland’s wastewater treatment plant, Auckland International Airport and residential housing. Noise pollution is minimised as flight plans are directed away from Ambury to protect bird roosting islands along the southern coastal boundary. The nearby water treatment plant is committed to protecting the health and well-being of the harbour environment and its people.
Ambury’s urban forest provides ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, air purification, cooling and shade cover. These spaces also offer habitat to a variety of species and opportunity for pollination across the area.
The park provides a buffer to surrounding properties from prevailing winds off the Manukau Harbour and potential flooding from storm events or sea level rises. The park’s large areas of green space absorb less solar radiation than neighbouring urban space mitigating heat sink, and its volcanic substrate provides well-drained fertile soil.
Like all of Auckland’s Regional Parks, Ambury is rubbish free which means no bins. Messaging is provided around educating people to minimise rubbish brought to the park, however dedicated recycling and waste bins are provided at the campground.
Marine pollution does feature on the foreshore with litter washing up along the coast, this is mitigated through beach clean-ups run by ‘Friends of the Farm’.
Auckland Council has a commitment to climate change and modelling sustainable farming practices. New and existing practices will be included as part of the Regional Parks Management plan which is currently in review.
Removing stock in sensitive areas such as riparian and coastal ecosystems is best practice for sustainable farming as stock in these areas contribute to erosion, pollution and reduction of biodiversity. Ambury is making a commitment to retire the foreshore from grazing and restore the natural wetlands, salt marshes and rare botany that can exist on the lava crops which are very unique to the coastal setting.
Another key focus (alongside the above mentioned integrated management plan), is to develop a framework that will guide us to manage the demand for large scale events, including addressing the potential detrimental impacts on the internationally significant wader bird site.
This framework will help Ambury achieve a sustainable balance between recreation and conservation, so our conservation values are not compromised by increased demand for activities in the long term.