Last wilding work set to start today

Skippers township and bridge in 2013. Photo supplied.
Skippers township and bridge in 2013. Photo supplied.
Spraying and removing all remaining Douglas fir and larch trees on public conservation land around the historic Skippers township is set to start today.

The work will be carried out by the Department of Conservation (Doc) in conjunction with the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group.

Doc Wakatipu said the operation would require the closure of the reserve from the Skippers bridge for the day.

Regular commercial users have been informed and signs will be posted at Skippers saddle.

The targeted trees act as seed sources, resulting in the spread of trees across the landscape, which has dramatically changed the scenery over the past century. The latest wilding pine control effort intends to protect the historic, recreational and biodiversity values of land around the former township.

Resident Colin Macnicol said his father, who was raised in Skippers, ''was saying 50 years ago we're going to have to do something about the pine trees, so I'm very pleased to see the spray work being done. It's the best way to restore the land back to what it used to be.

''The spraying originally looks devastating, but it will disintegrate over time and in the future will be unnoticeable.''

The works are part of a district-wide wilding pine control programme. Since 2006, about $400,000 has been spent on aerial and ground control of wildings in Skippers alone.

Doc commissioned an independent report by Peter Petchey, of Southern Archaeology Ltd, on the history and cultural significance of the trees at Skippers. The report acknowledges the cultural and recreational significance of the trees, but accepts the ecological need for the remaining trees to be removed.

The department was seeking funding for a conservation plan for the Skippers township to investigate suitable replanting options and how best to manage the site, Doc conservation services manager John Roberts said.

''Long term, we want people to be able to better enjoy the historic and recreational opportunities in Skippers.

''Our plans will likely include improvements to the camp site and walking tracks. Replanting with non-spreading trees will form an important part of any works and we will make sure the character of the area is restored,'' Mr Roberts said.

- james.beech@odt.co.nz