Sweeping Southern sanctuary suggested

Stunning landscapes such as this at the head of Lake Wakatipu and the Dart Valley are home to...
Stunning landscapes such as this at the head of Lake Wakatipu and the Dart Valley are home to threatened and at-risk species. PHOTO: LOUIS TAPPER
A consortium of predator control and conservation groups is working on an ambitious project to eradicate or intensively control predators across a massive swathe of country between Lakes Wakatipu and Hawea.

It has commissioned an independent study that says a ‘‘Southern Lakes Sanctuary’’ could eradicate possums, rats and mustelids across a 660,000ha area and provide a haven for at least 20 threatened or at-risk bird and lizard species.

The study, by environmental consultancy Wildlands Consultants, concluded that if fully implemented, the landscape-scale project would have ‘‘no equal in any other region in New Zealand’’.

The consortium, led by the Wakatipu Wildlife Trust, includes the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust, Central Otago Lakes Forest & Bird, Wanaka Backyard Trapping and about 45 community trapping groups in the Wakatipu.

Wakatipu Wildlife Trust executive officer Leslie Van Gelder said the group was now exploring funding options for creating the sanctuary, which would extend from Makarora to Kingston, and from the Rees-Dart catchment eastwards to Lake Hawea, and encompass Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka.

The project, instigated about three years ago by former Queenstown Department of Conservation (Doc) ranger Chris Hankin, would join up professional and volunteer predator control projects throughout the district, including about 50 community trapping projects.

It would use natural barriers such as lakes, rivers and mountains to create a network of pest eradication and control ‘‘hubs’’.

Most projects to have received major funding to date were in ‘‘geographically defensible’’ positions, such as on peninsulas and islands, which enabled predators to be eradicated without fencing, Ms Van Gelder said.

‘‘Our landscape has very few obvious opportunities like that, so we just have to be bigger and bolder.’’

A big point in the project’s favour was the degree of co-ordination that already existed between the group’s partners.

‘‘We have a strength in the community that’s bigger than in other parts of the country, where there are lots of disparate groups, but they’re not necessarily joined up the way we are.’’

The sanctuary would create dozens of ‘‘good, enduring jobs’’ in townships such as Glenorchy and Makarora, which were in danger of losing residents with valuable outdoor skills because of the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, she said.

Wildlands’ study, which was completed in February, was funded by Doc, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, the Otago Regional Council and a philanthropic family trust.



Southern Lakes Sanctuary

  • Haven for 20 threatened or at-risk species
  • Covers 660,000 hectares
  • Dozens of new local job
  • Targets possums, mustelids and rats


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