The announcement of a government funding boost for local efforts to make Hawke's Bay predator free is a great step towards eliminating possums, stoats and rats across the country by 2050, says Predator Free 2050 Ltd chief executive Ed Chignell.

Chignell was in Hawke's Bay at the start of this week to announce the Government would contribute $1.6 million kick-start funding for the $4.6m Predator Hawke's Bay project, the first phase of which would focus on removing possums from 14,500 hectares of land on Mahia Peninsula within four years.

The knowledge gained at Mahia would be used to develop a low-cost farmland control and eradication model that could be used in other areas of the region as well as the rest of the country.

Chignell said expressions of interest for the fund were put out in September last year, and Hawke's Bay's submission stood out for having a fantastic track record with initiatives such as Cape to City, Poutiri Ao ō Tāne and Cape Sanctuary.

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"It also showed there was good experience collaborating with iwi and community groups, the QEII National Trust, Manaaki Whenua and Federated Farmers - they are well connected."

The layout of Mahia Peninsula, with its narrow base, will help to defend the area once predators have been eradicated. Photo / File
The layout of Mahia Peninsula, with its narrow base, will help to defend the area once predators have been eradicated. Photo / File

The new funding would build on these efforts, starting in Mahia where possums were the main target, but feral cats and mustelids could also be controlled.

Chignell said with the narrow neck at the base of the peninsula, it was feasible to eradicate and then defend the area from predators.

"There's some great innovations going on, pushing the boundaries to come up with new ways to remove predators for good, not just from Mahia, but eventually across 70,000ha of the Hawke's Bay region.

"If we don't get rid of them we will have to keep trapping into perpetuity."

He said, like the rest of the country, possums were a key target because they were the easiest to eliminate, due to their slow breeding cycle, and because of work that had already been done through the likes of the OSPRI TB-Free programme.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council's Campbell Leckie had been at the coalface of Predator Free Hawke's Bay's work, and said technology advancements had meant eradication was becoming more effective and efficient, making the Predator Free 2050 goal an achievable one.

This was particularly the case for possums with tools like traps using wireless technology, which would have a big impact on reducing labour costs.

"At the moment we have to check the traps every 12 hours from sun-up with regard to animal welfare - depending on the area and terrain this can make up 50 to 80 per cent of the labour cost.

"With wireless monitoring it tells us what traps have gone off, where and when, which can bring the labour cost down to about 5 to 20 per cent of the cost of the programme, which is a major change."

In addition, more efficient, humane toxins were being developed, including one called PAPP, which was being used for mustelids and feral cats, and would be part of a large scale trial on farmland.

On launching the poison in 2011, the Department of Conservation said it worked very quickly, with stoats becoming unconscious within about 15 minutes, and dying shortly afterwards.

There was also an antidote available which significantly reduced the risks to non-target species.

Leckie said key to the success of the Predator Free Hawke's Bay project was the relationships with the community, and at Mahia he had already been working closely with marae and other community groups.

"They are the key to the success of these programmes as they bring a different perspective to work alongside farmers.

"The reality is, however, if it had not been for the efforts of the farming community over the last 18 years we would not be having this conversation about Predator Free Hawke's Bay."

Predator Free 2050's support was critical for moving on to the next stage at Mahia, he said.

Effective predator control will help the survival of native and unique bird and wildlife, such as the Kereru. Photo / Supplied
Effective predator control will help the survival of native and unique bird and wildlife, such as the Kereru. Photo / Supplied

"This is just the start - the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment did a report recently on birdlife that found four out of five native birds are in trouble or serious trouble.

"Biodiversity is in significant decline and there are a whole lot of areas that need attention.

"We are already looking at how we roll out large-scale predator control across the region to support local community efforts."

Chignell said it was undoubtedly going to be a challenge but the outlook for the 2050 predator free goal was positive.

"We have great projects going on the country, including eradications on islands, and we have great IP (Intellectual Property) in New Zealand.

"We'll start with possums first and work our way down the list with stoats and rats - we may not have all the tools now but I am sure that between now and 2050 we have an excellent opportunity to remove these predators out of the landscape."

The Predator Free Hawke's Bay project also received funding from Aotearoa Foundation, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research, Department of Conservation, OMV NZ Ltd, Maungaharuru Tangitū, Zero Invasive Predators and farmers.