Beech seed fall project's first big test

The expected heavy fall of beech-tree seed early next year is expected to provide the newly formed Matukituki Valley Protection Project with its first big test.

Beech trees throughout the South are flowering heavily and the resulting fall of seed is likely to lead to a plague of predators that would put at risk native bird species such as the yellow-head (mohua), blue duck (whio) and South Island robin (kakaruai) as well as the South Island long-tailed bat (pekapeka).

The Matukituki Valley project, a joint venture between the Matukituki Charitable Trust and the Department of Conservation, started in July with the aim of reducing pests in the valley leading into the Mt Aspiring National Park, near Wanaka.

The project covers 3000ha from the Rob Roy Valley to the head of the West Matukituki Valley.

Funders and trustees Derek and Gillian Crombie have recruited volunteers to help with pest control and monitoring of beech-seed fall.

Early next year they will set out seed funnels to collect the seeds to help predict the onset and timing of the beech tree ''mast'' and the rodent and stoat plagues.

The group has already built 140 tracking tunnels and set them out in the valley, providing baseline data on rat and mouse numbers.

The tunnels will be checked again in February to estimate the rat population trend.

Stoats, rats, hedgehogs, cats and possums are already being trapped as part of the project.