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Press Release: Project start

Pic: Co-chair Oliver Sutherland signing the Rātā agreement.

Joint press release: D’Urville Island Stoat Eradication Charitable Trust, Predator Free 2050 Limited, Marlborough District Council and Rātā Foundation

D’Urville Island gets predator-free green light

14 April – D’Urville Island is set to become stoat free after the signing of agreements between an island-based trust and funders this month.

D’Urville Island Stoat Eradication Charitable Trust (DISECT) Co-Chair Oliver Sutherland says the six year, $3.1m funding commitment was the culmination of 16 years of preparation and planning by the group.

“Thanks to Predator Free 2050 Limited, Rātā Foundation, Marlborough District Council, the NZ Lotteries Grant Board and landowners we have the opportunity to reverse the history of wildlife loss on Rangitoto ki te Tonga/ D’Urville Island.”

The 16,782-hectare Marlborough Sounds island, the fifth largest in New Zealand, is free of ship rats, Norway rats, possums and weasels, but stoats have caused the local extinction of little spotted kiwi, yellow-crowned kākāriki and South Island kākā and threaten an important population of South Island long-tailed bats/ pekapeka. Removal of stoats would also increase protection for significant nearby nature reserves, such as Stephens Island/Takapourewa, home to 50,000 tuatara.

The island has 20 permanent residents, 80 private land owners and significant areas of public conservation land, including the 5869-hectare D’Urville Island Scenic Reserve.

DISECT Co-Chair and island resident Pip Aplin remembers hearing kiwi above his home in Manuwhakapakapa Bay in the early 1980s. “But when the Wildlife Service started to remove them because of the threat from stoats they could only find four old males.”

Ngāti Koata Kaumātua Council Chair Pirihia Paul says “We have been working alongside DISECT since 2004 to make the return of taonga to Rangitoto ki te Tonga possible, in which time many of our early champions for this project have passed on. Wouldn’t it be lovely to see kiwi back on the island?”

Predator Free 2050 Limited CEO Ed Chignell says the project will provide an important boost to the national Predator Free 2050 effort. “This is a challenging and ambitious project with a lot at stake for wildlife and important opportunities for innovation and learning.” The government-owned funder is providing $975,000 and facilitating expertise from other projects around the country.

Rātā Foundation Chief Executive, Leighton Evans says “Congratulations must go to both the team and the D’Urville island community, for their perseverance in bringing this ambitious project to life.  We are confident this project will bring lasting benefit to the local natural environment of D’Urville, as well as provide an opportunity to help other communities learn how to more effectively involve people in conservation efforts.” Rātā Foundation is contributing $1m to the project.

Marlborough District Council Mayor John Leggett says “We are delighted to work with the island community, Ngāti Koata and the Department of Conservation to enable the restoration of wildlife and open up new nature-based jobs and opportunities for the island.” The council is providing $500,000 of support through its biosecurity programme.

The island is around 15 times bigger than other islands previously cleared of stoats and attention will be given to lessons learned from stoat eradication operations carried out by the Department of Conservation in Fiordland and a parallel project currently underway on Waiheke Island.

The project will use a variety of traps (boxed snap traps, self-setting and live capture traps) and lures (ferret and stoat bedding, automated luring with an egg mayo mix), as well as smart detection techniques (cameras and DNA analysis).

Department of Conservation Sounds Operations Manager Dave Hayes says DOC has been providing technical advice to the project. “We are pleased to support this community led initiative and will be continuing to provide expert advice and input throughout its duration of the project.”

Special attention will be given to trapping on the mainland within five kilometres of D’Urville and establishing a surveillance network to quickly detect any incursions across the narrow channel from French Pass.

Fieldwork is expected to start towards the end of this year.

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