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Published: 2005-02-25 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has granted $2.1 million in assistance to the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust to help restore the native animals and plants to the Region.

The project, south west of Cambridge, is building a 47km pest-proof fence around the 3400 ha forest on the mountain. Once the fence is built, all introduced mammals such as stoats and rats will be eradicated and rare native species will be restored.

A total of $800,000 will be made available immediately from the Council’s newly formed Natural Heritage Partnership Programme to allow the Trust to proceed with this year’s construction programme. The rest of the funds will be made available at the beginning of the next financial year.

Environment Waikato Strategic Development Manager Kevin Collins said the project was the first to be approved under the new Natural Heritage Programme, which is funded by a targeted conservation rate adopted by the Regional Council last year. The new rate had received strong public support through the Council’s Annual Plan, he said.

Total estimated cost of the project is $14 million, of which $9 million is for pest proof fence construction. Environment Waikato’s contribution will bring the total amount raised so far by the Trust to more than $7 million. The project is expected to be self funding through visitor charges, although free access will still be provided to the scenic reserve.

The Trust is further developing two large enclosures on the mountain where educational programmes and extensive visitor services will be offered. The entire mountain is expected to be fenced by August next year.

The Council approved the grant, following recommendations from the Environment Committee, chaired by Paula Southgate and the Corporate Services Committee, chaired by Basil Morrison. Cr Southgate said the Maungatautari project was an exciting start to the new Natural Heritage Programme and one that would have major benefits for the Region.

Cr Barry O’Connor, who represents the Maungatautari area, said the project was already showing major conservation results. Twenty new insect species had been found on the mountain already, along with an unknown population of the rare Hochstetter’s frog.

Chairman Jenni Vernon said the Council was impressed with the work done by the Trust so far and she hoped Central Government would also make a substantial contribution to the project. The Trust is seeking $6 million from Central Government.

“The greatest risk to the project now is loss of momentum. We hope the Government will join us to get it over the finish line.”

After the meeting the Councillors were joined by 14-year-old Daryl Pinfold of Cambridge, who was the first person in the Region to contribute to the Natural Heritage Fund when he sent $5 with his submission supporting the programme two years ago.

Daryl said he was happy to see his money go to the Maungatautari project.

“”It’s a great idea and they are getting there in protecting the area.”