1080 project under way; Wakatipu next

James Reardon.
James Reardon.
It will soon be the Wakatipu's turn as the largest predator control operation in New Zealand's history gathers momentum.

The Department of Conservation (Doc) has begun the first two of more than 20 aerial 1080 pellet drops across South Island beech forests to counter rising numbers of rats and stoats, because of an unusually heavy beech seeding last summer, known as a ''beech mast''.

In the first ''pre-feeding'' phase of the operations, helicopters dropped non-toxic bait pellets in the Iris Burn valley near Te Anau on Sunday and in Southland's Waitutu Forest yesterday, while next on Doc's list is an operation across a 24,000ha swathe of the Dart, Routeburn and Caples valleys on August 25.

The programme aims to protect at-risk populations of mohua (yellowhead), kakariki, kiwi, whio (blue duck), kea, kaka, rock wren, giant land snails and native bats.

Doc science adviser James Reardon said the ''Battle for our Birds'' programme was the first large-scale, co-ordinated series of 1080 operations in New Zealand's history, and would need to be repeated after future beech masts.

The ''pre-feeding'' of non-toxic pellets encouraged predators to eat the 1080-laced pellets that would be dropped on a separate day, Dr Reardon said.

On Sunday, professional hunter Dave Wilson was issued with a trespass notice by Doc at the entrance to Te Anau airport during a seven-hour protest of the Iris Burn operation.

Under the close watch of police and Doc staff, Mr Wilson held up a ''Ban 1080'' political party billboard to passing motorists, and was joined by a few supporters in the late afternoon.

He told the Otago Daily Times he had been contacted by others to say they would have joined him if they had known the Iris Burn operation had started.

He was upset by ''the non-specific killing of everything in that valley''.

''I've spent all my time in the bush and I know exactly what it does.

''I can't understand the conscience of New Zealanders to allow this.''