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Published: 2011-08-25 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council has awarded a $40,000 grant to a project aimed at restoring a highly-valued but endangered wetlands area on Lake Taupo.

The council heard that the Tongariro Natural History Society and Department of Conservation (DOC) worked together over four years on the area of Waimarino.

But they are now hoping to broaden the area of restoration to the Te Matapuna o Taupo Moana Wetland, previously called South Taupo wetland, which is home to a number of nationally threatened and locally significant plants.

The wide range of wetland vegetation types are important habitats for a high diversity of birdlife, including 36 native and 16 endemic species of birds. Among them are several threatened species.

Te Matapuna is approximately 1500ha in size and is situated between Motuoapa and Waihi adjacent to the southern shores of Lake Taupo. It is dissected by three major rivers: Tongariro, Waimarino and Waiotaka.

The most significant threat to the wetland is invasion by grey and crack willow, which is displacing the indigenous wetland vegetation. Approximately one third of the area is now dominated by willow forest.

If the willow spread continues unchecked, the ecological character of the wetlands will be dramatically degraded, the regional council was told.

The estimated total cost of the Tongariro Natural History Society’s 10-year project is $515,000, with the regional council today agreeing to award $40,000 from the environmental initiatives fund (EIF).

In making its decision the council heard that the society has a great track record of various successful projects throughout its existence. It has a well-established relationship with DOC, local schools and community groups, and iwi have also participated in previous projects.

Chairman Peter Buckley acknowledged the project fits well with the council’s policies around protection of biodiversity and wetlands.

“It is clear these wetlands are endangered, but this long-term project will bring members of the community together to have hands-on involvement in this important conservation work.

“In doing so, it will increase people’s knowledge of their natural environment and ensure it is restored for the wellbeing of the area’s plant and bird life,” Cr Buckley said.

The Tongariro Natural History Society was formed in 1984 in memory of five local people who died on Mount Ruapehu while testing helicopter rescue equipment.

The society is now funded mainly through grants and continues to expand in both membership numbers and types of projects undertaken.

It aims to promote a wider knowledge and understanding of the flora, fauna, geology, climate and the natural and human history of Tongariro National Park, as well as increasing participation in and support for conservation by developing opportunities for volunteer programmes, activities and special events.