Support predator plan

Eugenie Sage
Eugenie Sage
Confirmation of Government support for a Dunedin predator-free project is welcome but it will take buy-in from local residents for the plan to be a success.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage yesterday announced the Government would contribute $4.33 million to the $15 million Predator Free Dunedin project.

Dunedin is the first South Island area to be funded and follows similar national support in Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington and Waiheke Island.

The project aims in the next five years to eradicate possums from the 9000ha Otago Peninsula and target rat, stoat, possum, ferret and weasel populations in 12,500ha of land surrounding the Orokonui Ecosanctuary between Aramoana, Waitati and Northeast Valley.

Predator Free Dunedin project manager Rhys Millar said seeing kaka, hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins) and South Island robins dispersing throughout the city would be a sign of success.

The project has some lofty aims and has been labelled by those involved ''hugely ambitious''. On the face of it, it seems an almost impossible task. Where and how do you start?

But with ambition comes determination and this is one project certainly worth pursuing.

Dunedin is considered the wildlife capital of New Zealand and it is a title the city holds with pride.

From albatrosses and penguins, to sea lions - the wildlife on the city's backdoor is not just the envy of this country, but the world.

Thousands of cruise ship visitors flock each year to the peninsula for a glimpse of animals locals often take for granted.

Dunedin already has a strong reputation for conservation.

For the past seven years the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group has been targeting possums on the Peninsula with remarkable success. About 15,000 possums have been eradicated in that time.

To ensure continued success the group expanded trapping into suburbs and encouraged residents to sign up for backyard trapping. The group now has 70 volunteers and more than 100 participating landowners.

The Orokonui Ecosanctuary, which opened in 2009, is another example of what can be achieved when like-minded people work together. A predator fence was built around 307ha of forest, pests were removed, and many rare and endangered species re-introduced to the city.

What these projects show is a community approach is needed for the city to become truly predator-free.

Residents can always help by keeping sections tidy and installing traps to eradicate possums, rats and mice from the suburbs. It does raise the question of where cats fit into the predator debate, but that is a contentious discussion better left for another day.

A predator-free Dunedin is a wonderful dream. With some buy-in and support from the community, it might one day become a reality.

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