Native plants, birds and fish at Matahuru Wetland, Lake Waikare, will be the biggest winners of an $84,000 grant from Waikato Regional Council's Natural Heritage Fund.

The council's finance committee has agreed to help Waikato Raupatu River Trust/Nikau Whanau Trust buy 13ha of land in Waerenga for ecological restoration.

About 20.7 hectares of the wetland is already owned and administered by Waikato-Tainui and Matahuru Papakainga Marae, and they have been doing ecological restoration on their land since 2015.

The Matahuru Wetland provides habitat for a number of threatened species, including Australasian bittern, grey duck, New Zealand dabchick, white heron, North Island fernbird and several shag species. However, Lake Waikare and surrounding wetlands are generally degraded, leading to loss of habitat and ecological function.

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An ecological restoration plan for the entire wetland includes removal of pest plants and animals, planting, fencing and ecological monitoring. The aim of the collaborative project is to:
• return the wetland to its natural state
• use the natural processes of the wetland to filter sediments and nutrients from the Matahuru Stream into Lake Waikare
• assert kaitiakitanga and relearn matauranga Maori in the process
• establish and monitor a set of ecological and cultural health performance targets.
The land — a large wetland block and a smaller pasture block that is currently part of a farm — is valued at $120,000.

Finance committee chairwoman Jane Hennebry said the council is committed to improving the health of Lake Waikare.

"We already work with landowners, iwi, community groups and other agencies to improve the biodiversity and water quality of the lake and surrounding wetlands which are home to some rare and threatened species.

"This is not something anyone can do alone, and we are pleased with the commitment that Waikato-Tainui and Matahuru Papakainga Marae have towards the wetland," Cr Hennebry said.

The grant was one of three Natural Heritage Fund applications approved by the finance committee at its December meeting.

* A wee gem that's home to rare native animals in the Coromandel Peninsula has been given $154,990 over four years by Waikato Regional Council's Natural Heritage Fund for predator control.

Mahakirau Forest Estate, 600 hectares of native forest divided into 24 privately-owned land blocks, has strict introduced plant and animal controls to protect a number of threatened species, including the Coromandel striped gecko, Hochstetter's and Archey's frogs, North Island Brown kiwi, Helm's butterflies, painted cave weta, longfin eel and kokopu.

The Mahakirau Forest Estate Society Inc (MFESI) was established in 2001 and has been undertaking pest control for all the landowners. The group has previously had funding support from the council through its Small Scale Community Initiatives Fund.

MFESI intends to expand and upgrade its existing trapping and bait station network to ensure strong defensive buffer zones against re-infestation, and intensify efforts in the known habitats of endangered species.

It aims to reach near zero predator levels by 2021 so it can reintroduce other native species lost to the estate.

* Prisoners will be growing and planting eco-sourced trees as part of Project Tongariro, which will receive $126,750 over three years.

The Waiotaka River Restoration Project aims to restore ecologically appropriate vegetation — alluvial kahikatea, matai, totara and ribbonwood forest, and small areas of wetland vegetation — within the Waiotaka River riparian corridor, which flows mainly across Department of Corrections land.

Currently the river margins are infested with crack willow, blackberry and other weeds.
Project Tongariro plans to work with Rongomai Marae and Tongariro Prison, with the prison producing eco-sourced trees for the project and the labour to plant most of the trees.

The weed control will be done by the Department of Corrections and professional contractors, and Project Tongariro will also coordinate community planting days with Ngati Rongomai.

The restoration will help improve the water quality of the Waiotaka River and Lake Taupo by creating a wide indigenous vegetation buffer, and ensure access to the river for the public.

The project complements historic willow control works undertaken by the council 8-10 years ago.The Natural Heritage Fund has been in place since 2005 and is derived from the natural heritage targeted rate of $5.80 per property. The total amount allocated per year to the fund varies but is usually around $730,000.