Dramatic new footage shows Ruatoria's coastline littered with logs

New pictures show the full extent of destruction caused by recent storms on the east coast. 

Ruatoria's coastline, which has been cut off to road access, has debris strewn along tens of kilometres. Aerial footage shows bridges inundated with logs and mass erosion across farmlands.

It's best known as 'slash', forestry offcuts or unused wood that's washed down the hills out to sea. But now it has now flowed back in creating a terrible mess.

Local farmer Henry Gaddum is travelling with our Newshub crew and is visibly disappointed to see the mess below.

"You can see the old slash that hasn't been cleaned up from last time, so you would hope something is done about it this time," he says.

It follows heavy storms that battered the East Coast in recent weeks.

As Newshub's helicopter flight continues on, we see hundreds of old logs now sitting precariously on the side of forestry blocks. Minutes later we witness a bridge blocked by logs - our pilot says they appear to be fresh wood.

But we also see some examples where the forestry industry has made real effort to keep logs away from streams and rivers. This is where they've moved piles of wood far away from waterways.

The slash we see today is an ongoing problem that stretches from Tolaga Bay right up the coast.

Locals Lily Stender and Rick Crawford's ties to this land stretch back decades. They say to come here now is painful, and they're sick of it.

"[I felt] anger, pain, I felt like crying", Stender says after returning here after last weekend's storms.

They expect another hit to local tourism because of this, an industry already hit by COVID-19.

"They [tourists] come fishing, they come diving, it's a beautiful area. Who's going to come sunbathing on this?"

Dramatic new footage shows Ruatoria's coastline littered with logs
Photo credit: Newshub

Environmental advocate Mere Tamanui says her people are guardians of this land. She says she feels betrayed.

"All I can think about is our children and mokopuna's futures, and how our industries are eating off their plates in terms of resources," she tells Newshub.

Tamanui has studied this land for years and tells Newshub she would like to see more environmental impact assessments conducted before forestry companies can operate on this land.

There's a reason why locals here are so furious. This has happened here before, not once, but multiple times. After the devastation caused by storms and slash in 2018, apologies were made as were promises to do better.

A number of forestry companies were prosecuted by the Council in the Environment Court and fined. Another will go to trial in the coming weeks, and a further one will be sentenced.

Henry Gaddum has long been vocal about the risks posed to the region by forestry. He says he's not 'against' the industry and isn't calling for forestry to cease work on the coast, but he remains concerned about the continued practice of farming pine trees.

While flying across farmland Newshub witnesses a large slip where large pines have fallen. Seeing the slash today though, Gaddum says it's obvious not enough is being done.

"I definitely think it's a few cowboys, what I've been told is most companies are doing their part and doing it well and there's a few that are letting the team down, and I guess council just has to jump on their backs and bring them up to speed."

Dramatic new footage shows Ruatoria's coastline littered with logs
Photo credit: Newshub

For an industry that feels it's under attack, these pictures don't help their message.

Kim Holland from the Eastland Wood Council acknowledges the mess that has been left at Tolaga.

"I think I'd be pretty annoyed too because it's not what anyone wants their beach to look like."

Holland leads the Wood Council and Ian Brown is one of its members.

They say the industry has significantly changed its work practices since 2018, and want locals to know they are not just sitting on their hands, telling Newshub a lot of work is being done.

"These are changing their practices around rotational harvesting, no clear-fell harvesting, [and] they're retiring some of the areas of steep hill country."

The Wood Council is paying for the big clean-up at Tolaga.

Local debate now centres around whether the slash is old wood or new. If it's old, it could mean it's wood the forestry industry helped move in 2018. If it's new, locals say it means companies still aren't cleaning up after themselves. But either way, it's littering East Coast beaches.

When we tell the Wood Council about more slash on beaches near Ruatoria, the Wood Council commits to helping there too.

"Absolutely we'll do that if that's required," Brown says.

But until this stops happening, locals remain sceptical.

"It's a load of rubbish," says Stender.

Rubbish that could take months and many thousands of dollars to clean up.

The east coast - rugged, raw, and divided.