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A newly-formed conservation group hopes to start pest control operations in a ''biodiversity hotspot'' in Fiordland this spring.
In a partnership that will be formalised by Minister of Conservation Nick Smith at a ceremony in Martins Bay next week, the Hollyford Conservation Trust will work with the Department of Conservation (Doc) to restore native flora and fauna across 2400ha of the lower Hollyford Valley.
Trust chairman and prominent Dunedin businessman Ron Anderson said the area was one of Fiordland's ''gems''.
''Across a relatively small area we have an enormous range of native species, well known as a biodiversity hotspot.
''It's up to us to protect it, to restore it to where it was a few decades ago.''
The area included fragile dune communities, Fiordland crested penguin, lagoon and wetland providing habitat for kotuku (white heron), podocarp forest, southern rata, and many rare or endangered native birds. It was also the only area in New Zealand where bottlenose dolphins entered a freshwater lake.
The area, which is north of Milford Sound and accessible only by air or three to four days' walk, extends from Martins Bay inland along the shores of Lake McKerrow.
Mr Anderson said although the trust hoped to secure as much private funding as possible, it could not succeed without Doc's help.
''We're in a difficult geographical situation at the end of the Hollyford Valley, surrounded by very steep mountains.
''Our main efforts will focus on pest control on the lower country, but we'll need help, particularly in the form of 1080 aerial buffer control, in that higher, steeper country.''
Dr Smith will be accompanied to Martins Bay by the director-general of Doc, Lou Sanson, and the department's southern region conservation services manager, Allan Munn.
Mr Munn said the department was ''hugely grateful'' that a committed group of people had volunteered to manage the area in partnership with it.
Trustee Peta Carey, of Queenstown, said the area contained 19 freehold sections, many of which had cribs. Doc contacted her 12 months ago to ask whether the landholders would be interested in supporting restoration work in the area, and a subsequent meeting of landholders found ''overwhelming support'' for the idea.
A ''diverse, influential and experienced'' board of nine trustees was appointed about a month ago, and would need to raise ''hundreds of thousands upfront'' in the next few years to set up trap lines and bait stations to control stoats, rats and possums.
''We are hugely committed, and this is not just for the next few years - we have a vision of 20-plus years.''
Because of the area's remoteness and the expense involved in travelling there, most of the work would be carried out by pest control contractors.
Provided funding was secured, ground operations were expected to start this spring.
Other stakeholders to have indicated their support included local iwi and Ngai Tahu Tourism, which operated the Hollyford Track.