Skinks might not be as ''sexy'' as other endangered wildlife but giving $146,000 to support the work of a community group focusing on boosting the Otago skink population is money well spent, Conservation Minister Nick Smith says.

He told a function in Alexandra yesterday the Central Otago Ecological Trust (COET) was carrying out quality work and had ''quickly risen to the top of applicants'' for funding under the Community Conservation Partnership scheme, launched by the Government in March.

''This is my last event as the Minister of Conservation, before the election. If it ends up being my last duty [as a politician], to give funds to COET for skinks, then it's an honour,'' Dr Smith said.

The money will be used by the trust to expand the predator-proof fence around the Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary, near Alexandra.


The sanctuary provided a haven for endangered Otago skinks, which used to exist in Alexandra 30 years ago.

The lizards were now extinct in the Alexandra basin and without human intervention, it was predicted the skinks would be extinct in the wild within 10-20 years, Dr Smith said.

''This makes the conservation work the trust carries out, in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, particularly important.''

Trustee Grant Norbury paid tribute to the ''raft of volunteers'' within the trust and to all the organisations who had provided funds for the sanctuary.

The community partnership fund has $26 million to distribute over four years for conservation and heritage projects.

Doc staff and Conservation Board representatives are involved in assessing the applications and Doc also monitors the progress of the projects which receive funding.

The Queen Elizabeth II National Trust was also given $4600 through the partnership fund, to control hawthorn, briar and elderberry weeds on a QEII covenant block covering 20ha at Waikerikeri, near Alexandra.

Earlier, Dr Smith ''opened'' the Tasman Valley Rd at Mount Cook, which got a $3 million upgrade, compliments of Doc and the New Zealand Transport Agency. The road was realigned to improve safety.