Complexity halting return, DCC says

Researchers cannot yet return to the scientifically significant Foulden Maar site near...
Researchers cannot yet return to the scientifically significant Foulden Maar site near Middlemarch. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Complexity is getting in the way of allowing researchers to return to the fossil-rich Foulden Maar site near Middlemarch, the Dunedin City Council says.

The council bought the site in February last year for $924,000 and chief executive Sandy Graham said at the time this was to "prevent any mining taking place and preserve this very special scientific and conservation site into the future".

The site has been preserved, but there is not yet an agreement that would allow resumption of academic field work.

Foulden Maar has been called one of New Zealand’s most exceptional fossil sites, where fossils of flowers, insects, seeds, fungi and fish were preserved, as well as a climate record covering 100,000 years.

The council stepped in after mining firm Plaman Resources went into receivership and liquidation in 2019.

Asked why there had been such a long hold-up in allowing researchers to resume field work since last year’s purchase, the council said care needed to be taken ensure future site management was appropriate.

"While we acknowledge the desire of researchers to return to the site as soon as possible, it’s a complex situation which takes time to carefully consider," a council spokesman said.

"It’s important to note that while access remains restricted, the fossil record also remains preserved and the risk from mining activities has been removed.

"The time we are spending to plan the best way forward for the site will be insignificant compared to the value of the fossil record preserved there."

Complexities included mining rights having been extinguished, but the council, as landowner, had compliance obligations to meet under the existing resource consent.

"One of those obligations is to control dust, which we have done by applying a thin layer of topsoil to part of the site.

"None of this work has impacted the fossil record."

University of Otago geologist and honorary Associate Prof Daphne Lee said in February last year she was looking forward to being allowed to resume collecting material to study, once permission was granted.

She said last month site visits could not happen in winter and would not be possible before late spring.

She hoped for a solution by then.

The council said it needed to consider future management, preservation and access options.

"A report on these issues is expected to be presented to council in the second half of 2024, and will help inform how best to manage the site into the future."