Paddy Gower Has Issues: Expert says log that killed 11-year-old on beach was freshly cut

An investigation by Newshub Live at 6pm anchor Samantha Hayes for Three's current affairs show Paddy Gower Has Issues has found the slash that killed 11-year-old Oliver Shone on a Gisborne beach in January was a freshly cut pine log, most likely from a forestry harvesting site in the Waimatā River catchment.

The investigation also found that as much as half of the land planted in forestry at the top of the Waimatā River catchment has given way in slips and landslides, meaning there is a huge amount of woody debris which will be washed downstream and onto beaches in the years ahead.   

"In this forest alone it's up to 50 percent of it that's collapsed after Cyclone Gabrielle and that's horrific," said Laura Watson, Waimatā River Catchment Group project manager.   

"And so all of those trees, with every rain, they wash down further and further. So what you're seeing on Waikanae beach today, this is kind of what's coming."

Gisborne District Council Principal Scientist Murry Cave carried out aerial surveillance of the Waimatā River catchment after Cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle. 

Cave mapped the pine trees and slash as it moved downstream from all the forestry areas at the headwaters, to the river mouth and then onto Waikanae beach where Oliver went to play with his Grandmother.

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Cave was on Waikanae Beach the day Oliver was fatally injured photographing the slash that had washed up. 

"For Oliver, we do know that it was a fresh cut log."

"It definitely was from a harvest plantation and we'll be using a number of scientific methods to trace it back to its source."

Oliver Shone was killed by a log on Gisborne beach.
Oliver Shone was killed by a log on Gisborne beach. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues.

Cave was instrumental in the seven successful prosecutions brought by the Gisborne District Council against forestry companies after slash clogged the region's rivers and blighted its beaches in 2018. 

Emotion choked his voice when he spoke about what happened to Oliver.

"It shouldn't be happening."

"We've had all these prosecutions, where everybody said we're not doing that anymore, we've actually improved our practice, but this tells us that we're still getting logs that should be on a ship and actual fact being lost from a harvest site and coming down on the beach."

Huge slash piles remain in flood zone

At Merv Utting's sheep and cattle farm we found more than seven huge piles of pine trees and slash, some stacked more than a storey high, blocking the Waimatā River's original path and forcing it to change course. 

The 80-year-old farmer said it came down the valley in 4-5 hours after Cyclone Gabrielle and destroyed the pasture and fences on his river flat.

"I just thought before this last rain, how good the place looked. Everything was done. All the fences were good.  

Merv Utting's sheep and cattle farm is covered in pine trees and slash.
Merv Utting's sheep and cattle farm is covered in pine trees and slash. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues.

The enormous amount of woody debris still poses a threat with locals fearing it'll be washed further downstream and eventually onto Waikanae Beach in the next big storm. 

There are no solid plans on how to prevent that happening but the forestry companies have put forward one idea. 

"We have had a few discussions over that. They can't take it anywhere. They can't bury it. So they're going to burn it", Utting said. 

But he fears it will smoulder all winter so he won't allow them to set it on fire, yet. 

Another plan afoot is to bring in a large chipping machine which costs $10,000 per day to run and cover the wood chips with grass seed. The Utting family understands this will be paid for by the Government's $10 million slash removal fund. 

"You just sort of got to live with it after a while. It's just part of your routine. But we've never had anything like this before. This bad."

Merv Utting's may have to get used to it because there's something lurking even further up river that's got locals more concerned.  

12,200 slips in Waimatā catchment after Cyclone Gabrielle

Laura Watson's family have farmed in this region for 99 years and she leads the Waimatā Catchment group - an area where 12,200 slips have been mapped after the recent extreme weather. 

"These trees are between 10 and 15 years old, so should be in prime, you know, earth holding abilities. And so what you can see here is after cyclone Hale and Cyclone Gabrielle the hill slopes with the trees on it and everything else have just collapsed."

Laura Watson.
Laura Watson speaks to Sam Hayes. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues.

"This is new. This is the first time we're seeing this sort of damage done on a large scale." 

More than half of the land beneath the pine plantation has collapsed. 

"Our catchment is just one of many across the East coast where this is happening." 

Watson is devastated about Oliver Shone's death and says something needs to change.

"Just to know that potentially that could have been prevented, you know, through proper forest management. It should never have happened to a child playing on a beach." 

A Give-a-Little page has been set up to support Oliver's family. 

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