Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Battle over wildlife reserve ends

A predator-proof fence. Photo / Christine Cornege
A predator-proof fence. Photo / Christine Cornege

A year-long battle that threatened the protection of wildlife behind a multi-million-dollar predator-proof fence has been resolved.

A messy stoush between funders of the Maungatautari Reserve, the Waipa District Council, Environment Waikato, a handful of surrounding landowners and local iwi Ngati Koroki Kahukura threatened to derail years of work at the wildlife sanctuary near Karapiro.

A governance structure that unequally dividing seats on the trust board - the root of the dispute - has been ditched.

Instead the trust, which oversees the management of the sanctuary that houses rare and native birds including kiwi, will revert to a structure that gives landowners, iwi and community representatives two seats each on the board.

Landowners have been fighting with the trust for almost a year over the structure because they thought it unfairly favoured Maori.

Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust co-chairman Tony Wilding said returning to the previous structure introduced in 2006 had come as a result of meetings with the adjacent landowners, mana whenua and volunteers.

The original 2006 trust deed reflected the intent of the project, which was to be a partnership between iwi and landowners and supported by the community, local and regional councils and the Department of Conservation, he said.

The ambitious project nearly fell over this year when 14 rats were found inside the 3400ha wildlife park and when three landowners blocked access to the 47km fence from their properties.

Key funders were also against the new structure. Philanthropist Gareth Morgan waded into the battle by withholding a $1 million interest-free loan towards building a tree-top walkway because the new model was "blatant opportunism".

Mr Wilding said the board still had a number of issues to resolve which would take time, but was determined these would be overcome. He said the good news was that kiwi were still breeding there.

The trust would do everything possible to make the project a success, he said.

- NZ Herald

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