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Protected ground . . . It is hoped the robust grasshopper population in the Mackenzie Basin will grow after a new predator-proof fence was built for the native insects. PHOTO: JENNIFER SCHORI

by Greta Yeoman

The biodiversity of the Mackenzie Basin is expected to bloom under a new scheme announced last month.

The project, Te Manahuna Aoraki, is an inter-agency environmental project between the Department of Conservation (Doc), Next Foundation, high-country landowners and Arowhenua, Waihao and Moeraki rūnanga (Māori iwi representatives).

Leading the way . . . Wanaka-based Doc conservation partnerships manager Phil Tisch has taken up the manager role for the Te Manahuna Aoraki project. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

The Mackenzie Basin, known as Te Manahuna in Māori, is home to a diverse collection of New Zealand wildlife, including kea and rock wrens in the alpine zone and river-level species like the wrybill, robust grasshoppers, jewelled gecko and the black stilt.

The scheme, which launched in mid-November, has an initial three-year period of work, which may be extended over time, Te Manahuna Aoraki director Phil Tisch said.
The first big stage of the project would be extending the kakī-protection trapping programme in the basin, he said.

The endangered kakī, or black stilt, now has a breeding aviary in Twizel – that opened the same day as Te Manahuna launched – but more trapping would be needed to keep predators away from the birds, Mr Tisch said.

This meant the Project River Recovery trapping programme, which is funded by Meridian Energy Limited and Genesis Energy due to the companies’ hydro schemes in the area, would be extended from 26,000 hectares of land to 60,000ha.

“It’s quite exciting.”

He hoped this would increase the protection for kakī (black stilt) from 20% to 80%.

The land in the trapping area includes the Tasman, Cass, Godley and Macaulay river systems.

Speaking to The Courier on Monday, Mr Tisch said workers had been out in the area known as the “Tekapo triangle” looking at the predator-proof fenced area for the robust grasshopper.

The 440ha area of Crown land – which was designated as conservation land in August this year – has an estimated population of 500 robust grasshoppers, which was expected to grow once predators were removed from the pest-free area.

Taking flight . . . Pest-eradication in the Mackenzie Basin to protect the kakī (black stilt), pictured in the Ahuriri River, is set to expand under the new Te Manahuna Aoraki project. PHOTO: INES STAGER

Mr Tisch said while the project was in its “early days”, those involved had already been contacted by people wanting to volunteer.

While this was unable to happen at present, as those involved with Te Manahuna were still working on the next stages of the scheme, he hoped volunteers and school groups could be part of the work in the future.

The project has $4.5 million in funding over three years – $1.5 million has been contributed by Doc, $1.5million from the Next Foundation and the remaining $1.5 million has been given to the project by a variety of investors.