A group of Great Barrier Island residents protesting a poison drop in the area says its rights are being trampled on after being ordered off a reserve.
The Department of Conservation issued the group, camped out at Okiwi Recreation Reserve since June 18, with a trespass notice on Monday, stating it was illegal to use the reserve for personal accommodation. They were given two days to dismantle their camp.
The group of about a dozen protesters, including Ngāti Rehua and Ngāti Wai hapū members and various community groups, have been protesting plans to drop the poison brodifacoum on nearby Rakitū Island.
The operation was being conducted by DoC, in partnership with the Ngāti Rehua Ngātiwai ki Aotea Trust Board, in a bid to eradicate rats and restore bird and plant life on the island.
Protester Tony Storey said they believed any eviction from the reserve would be unlawful, and the protesters were asserting rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights Act 1990.
"I would have thought the right to protest would supersede it being illegal to use a reserve for public accommodation, as long as there are no health or safety concerns."
The protest camp had been peaceful, organised and well communicated with the community, he said.
He was seeking legal advice on the trespass notice.
Seafood gathering was important to the lifestyles of many residents, and they were not convinced the poison drop would not have an adverse impact on marine life, Storey said.
"The average income here is only about $18,000, so hunting and gathering seafood is a big part of people living here. The risk of that poison affecting fish and shellfish is too great."
However, DoC said brodifacoum is almost totally insoluble, so it will not contaminate the sea water around Rakitu.
Crayfish and reef fish tested after helicopters spread cereal baits containing 0.002 per cent brodifacoum to remove rats on islands, have contained no trace of brodifacoum.
The group had looked into non-toxic advanced trapping systems, including the Goodnature self-resetting traps, which would also provide ongoing employment.
"I think DoC wants to do [the poison drop] because it is easy and they think it will be cheaper."
DoC said the density of rats on Rakitū, and the rugged terrain, meant it was not possible to use traps to eradicate rats from the island.
Rakitū's 180-metre high cliffs and steep hillsides meant it would be a hazardous for people to try and remove rats from the island with traps.
The majority of Great Barrier Island residents didn't support the poison drop, he said.
"We did a survey and about 400 residents opposed it. There has been zero consultation [from DoC] about it."
Some Ngāti Rehua hapū members were also upset the poison was being used and a 500m rāhui (temporary prohibition) had been placed around the island without consultation.
DoC Auckland region communications advisor Nick Hirst said the protesters had been allowed to camp illegally in the reserve to express their opposition for more than two weeks.
However, during that period they had committed further offences, by lighting fires and erecting banners, he said.
DoC Aotea/Great Barrier Island operations manager George Taylor said the poison drop was a "safe and proven method".
The cereal pellets to be used were 99.998 per cent wholemeal and 0.002 per cent brodifacoum, a rodent poison that could be bought in hardware stores.
DoC had safely eradicated rats from 53 islands using cereal pellets with a tiny amount of brodifacoum, Taylor said.
Helicopters were used to spread the cereal pellets on 45 of the 53 islands cleared of rats, including Rangitoto, Motutapu, Tiritiri Matangi and Hauturu/Little Barrier Island.
"Removing rats [from Rakitū] would allow us to bring birds back to the island," Taylor said.
Rakitū once had thriving breeding colonies of native birds, particularly seabirds, before rats were introduced to the island.
"It would also enable us to replant native trees, shrubs and plants these birds and other native wildlife need for food, shelter and to breed," Taylor said.
The island could also become part of a native seabird highway, spanning a chain of pest-free islands from the Poor Knights Islands to the Mercury Islands.
Seabird islands created nutrients in the seas around them, making them more productive, Taylor said.
"Removing rats will lead to more fish and other marine life around Rakitū."