The Lake Whatuma Wetland Care Group in Central Hawke's Bay has welcomed $25,000 in Department of Conservation funding that will help its efforts to restore the Central Hawke's Bay landmark near Waipukurau.
Local landowners and waterfowl hunters formed the group about four years ago and since that time its members have been carrying out predator control and other measures as part of a Lake Whatuma Restoration project.
Project co-ordinator John Cheyne said the group was extremely grateful for the support of many stakeholders, including DOC, which contributed the money as part of the recent allocation of its $4.2 million DOC community fund.
Mr Cheyne said that with 96 per cent of Hawke's Bay's freshwater wetlands lost to drainage and land development, it made Lake Whatuma even more significant both ecologically and culturally.
"It is home to fish, plants and birds such as the nationally critical Australasian bittern, also known as the matuku," he said.
"However, those remaining wetlands, like Lake Whatuma, are still subject to a suite of threats which require addressing if we are to have any chance of protecting what remains."
Currently the major threats to the lake were the invasion of exotic willows, mammalian predators – such as mustelids, feral cats, opossums, hedgehogs and rats - and low summer water levels.
To address these problems, Mr Cheyne and 40 other volunteers intended to prepare a willow control plan, a review of current predator control operations, and an assessment of options to improve summer water levels.
"The vision of the group is the restoration of a vibrant shallow lake and wetland ecosystems which can be enjoyed by all," he said.
Local DOC operations manager Connie Norgate said the work that the care group was doing was critical to ensuring the growth of the matuku population.
"The DOC Community Fund is directed at practical on-the-ground projects such as the work being undertaken by the Lake Whatuma Wetland Care Group, which maintains and restores the diversity of our native plants and wildlife," she said.
The fund was this year split between 112 conservation projects, and Ms Norgate said the priorities were projects that controlled invasive weeds that were threatening ecosystems and wildlife, and projects that tackled the introduced predators that destroyed unique birdlife.
"Weeds such as the grey willow and crack willow and mammalian predators are a constant threat to our native species which rely on the lake for survival."
Ms Norgate said that by directly supporting community organisations the public would see more conservation work being done, more New Zealanders active in the outdoors and more people aware of Hawke's Bay's unique conservation challenges.
Last year the Hawke's Bay Regional Council also signalled its intention to address water quality issues at Lake Whatuma, which it named as one of six environmental hotspots in the region.
This prompted a 9.88 per cent rate rise for the 2017-18 year to create a $1 million "environmental kick-start fund" targeting Lake Whatuma and the Tukituki catchment, Lake Tutira, Ahuriri Estuary, Whakaki Lake and Wairoa River, and Karamu Stream.
At Lake Whatuma, the council's focus would be on weed control.