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A new collaborative project will protect the endangered South Canterbury pekapeka (long-tailed bat) population from predators in the Raincliff area.

Staff from Environment Canterbury, the Department of Conservation (Doc) and forestry company Port Blakely have begun setting 200 predator traps on Port Blakely’s land to help boost the local bat population by removing possums, rats, weasels and stoats from the area.

Environment Canterbury biodiversity officer Rob Carson-Iles said the focus on reducing predators should really help support the local bats, which were in one of the largest colonies on the east coast of the South Island.

“Although bats roost off the ground, up in trees, these predators are more than able to find their roost trees and kill both adults and pups. Reducing introduced predators is key to the health of this extraordinary native species.”

Self-resetting traps, funded by Environment Canterbury for the next two years, are being placed around bat habitats, using GPS to pinpoint locations. They are placed 100m apart for rats and 200m apart for possums and stoats.

The long-tailed bat is classified as “endangered – nationally critical” by Doc. In South Canterbury, they are found within a triangle from Geraldine to Cave and down to Temuka, with a total population of only 200 to 300 in six separate colonies.

The Raincliff forest colony is one of the largest in South Canterbury.

Helen Risk, land management and biodiversity adviser for Environment Canterbury, said collaboration with both Doc and landowners meant the project would be much more effective.

“Collaboration extends the reach of what we can do alone – even just the time in physically getting the traps out in the thick bush is much reduced with three separate organisations giving time towards this.”

Landowners Port Blakely have carried out some early possum control and will also contribute towards servicing the traps, in collaboration with Doc and Environment Canterbury staff.

Port Blakely regional manager Andrew Cocking said his organisation was committed to protecting the bats.

“Port Blakely is keen to support this project as we are lucky enough to have these special little creatures making their home in our environment and want to ensure their population grows and is supported.”

Bats are nocturnal mammals that hibernate during the winter months. They are protected by the Wildlife Act 1953.

Most remaining bat populations are associated with extensive native forest. South Canterbury is one of the few places where bats have persisted in a rural landscape.

Bats are dependent on aged trees that provide nooks and holes for breeding.

They prefer to roost in the native trees that are now scarce. However, they will roost in introduced trees that are allowed to get old and large enough for natural cavities to form.