An ambitious conservation project under way in the Far North could turn a Bay of Islands peninsula into New Zealand's most important kiwi sanctuary.
The project, called Pest Free Purerua, aims to eradicate possums, stoats, feral cats and rats on the 7600ha Purerua Peninsula, which encloses the northern end of the Bay of Islands.
The project is driven by landowners, iwi, hapū and conservation initiative Kiwi Coast.
It will be funded for the next five years by a $500,000 grant through the Kiwis for Kiwi Trust from the government's Jobs for Nature fund.
Pest control work has been carried out on the peninsula for the past decade but the new funding will allow the number of traps, and the frequency with which they are checked, to be doubled.
It will also allow Kiwi Coast to lift its goal from simply keeping pest numbers down to total eradication.
The new funding will also allow the creation of an 8000ha ''buffer zone'' to stop pests re-invading Purerua Peninsula.
With landowners' support the buffer zone, stretching from Whitehills to Rangitane, near Kerikeri, will reduce pest numbers to low levels before they can reach the peninsula, making it more defendable.
Kiwi Coast Mid-North coordinator Andrew Mentor said Purerua had ''massive potential'' as a pest-free haven for kiwi and other native flora and fauna.
The peninsula was already a kiwi haven with an estimated 2000 birds, almost a quarter of Northland's total population.
"We're well placed to suppress the four main threats to our wildlife on the peninsula — possums, feral cats, mustelids and rats — with a view to eradication further down the track. This should help the resident kiwi, kūkūpa, pāteke, dotterels, bittern, fernbirds and ōi (grey-faced petrel)," he said.
Northland was once roamed by more than 100,000 kiwi but that had plummeted to just 8500 due to predation.
"This will help reverse the national trend of a 2 per cent decline in kiwi numbers each year. I think we have an obligation to look after our kiwi — after all, they're our national symbol,'' Mentor said.
The project, which started on February 1, was a cooperative effort bringing together private landowners, iwi, corporates and agencies.
Everyone in the area could contribute to its success, Mentor said.
Dog owners should make sure their pets were under control, tied up or inside at night and walked on a lead, and landowners could contact Kiwi Coast (email@example.com) for help with rat and possum traps.
''Everyone doing their part will be the key,'' he said.
Pest Free Purerua is the biggest conservation project in the Mid-North since Project Island Song was launched in 2009.
Project Island Song has eradicated pests from the Ipipiri islands, between Russell Peninsula and Cape Brett, and is gradually re-introducing native birds, reptiles and insects.
Pest Free Purerua is, however, on a bigger scale, with a total of 16,000ha under pest control — about the size of 23,000 football fields.
The islands of Project Island Song cover a combined area of just under 600ha with a mainland buffer zone of about 4600ha.
While the Purerua Peninsula has the disadvantage that it is connected to the mainland, making re-invasion easier for pests, it is joined only by a narrow, defendable neck.
■ Jobs for Nature is a $1.245 billion government programme aiming to create 11,000 jobs, restore rivers and habitats, and ensure native wildlife thrives. The Department of Conservation is responsible for allocating $500 million to partner projects creating 6000 nature-based jobs over a four-year period. Funding for Kiwis for Kiwi projects alone will create more than 200 jobs and boost kiwi conservation nationwide.