The debate over 1080 poison came to Whanganui on Saturday, with protesters saying it has no place in New Zealand.

But the Conservation Department (DoC) — and its mandated iwi partner Te Rōpū Mana Whenua (TRMW) — support its use, saying aerial drops of 1080 are the most effective tool available to kill possums, rats and other pests that threaten native species.

The United People's Movement NZ group was in Whanganui showing its opposition to using 1080 for pest control.

The group joined the Anti 1080 Action Ruapehu group and the national Hikoi for a Poisoned Nation in the city on Saturday morning.

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Some protesters met at Otoko Marae on State Highway 4, before being welcomed onto Te Ao Hou Marae in Whanganui on Friday.

Emile Leaf, from Hikoi for a Poisoned Nation, is walking to Parliament from Cape Reinga, with other people joining him.

He and South Island walker Allan Gurden aim to reach Wellington on September 8 and talk to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

United People's Movement NZ spokesman Michael Shane said there were other ways of managing possums and rats, and some of those ways would give people jobs.

The manufacture and use of 1080 was all about money, he said, and it killed life in the bush.

Conversations about 1080 have become divisive, he added, with people against it "immediately branded as being different".

Te Kuiti man Daniel Le Feuvre plans to be at Parliament with Leaf. He said 1080 is "an A1 toxic poison with no antidote".

He's a beekeeper, and said the sugar content in 1080 baits attracts bees and kills the invertebrates that break down leaf litter on the forest floor.

"Things aren't breaking down ... there are no invertebrates. It's just ridiculous."

But TRMW chairman Robert Cribb says 1080 has significantly improved the health of the forest canopy. He has seen what it can do.

"A few of our kaumātua joined us on a helicopter flight to look at the vast canopy of where aerial pest control operations had taken place on public conservation land. At the same time we got to see the canopy on our own lands," he said.

Forest on the conservation land looked healthier. The kaumātua wanted the group to support aerial 1080 operations in order to uphold their responsibilities as kaitiaki (guardians).

TRMW supports continued refinement and development of new pest control methods, and is kept well informed by the department.

Use of aerial 1080 has reversed the decline of kiwi in the Whanganui area over the last 20 years, DOC Whanganui operations manager Jasmine Hessel said.

"Pressure from pests on the forest and its indigenous inhabitants is relentless." she said.

"Our work to control pest populations must continue if the ngāhere is to be protected for future generations."

Hikoi of a Poisoned Nation walker Emile Leaf (left) arrives in downtown Whanganui in a waka. Photo / Bevan Conley Wanganui Chronicle
Hikoi of a Poisoned Nation walker Emile Leaf (left) arrives in downtown Whanganui in a waka. Photo / Bevan Conley Wanganui Chronicle

The protesters in Whanganui staged a meeting at Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens before grouping outside the Orillion factory in Heads Rd at about 1pm.

Orillion is a state-owned enterprise authorised by the Ministry for Primary Industries and Environmental Protection Authority, its website says. It has about 14 staff.

It manufactures and researches predator control products such as Pest Off, Broadifacoum and the cereal baits used in 1080 aerial drops.

Some of its products are exported to other countries, especially for rodent control on offshore islands.