Restoring nature and sustaining community – from the mountains to the sea.

The $45m Predator Free South Westland project aims to eliminate possums, rats and stoats from a 100,000 hectare area bounded by the Whataroa and Waiau (Waiho) Rivers, the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea over five years.

The area includes bush, rural land and the townships of Whataroa, Okarito and Franz Josef and includes habitat for New Zealand’s rarest kiwi – the rowi – along with many other rare and threatened species, including kōtuku (white heron), kea, and the recently rediscovered Ōkārito gecko.

The project builds on Zero Invasive Predators’ (ZIP) successful removal of predators from the 12,000 hectares Perth River Valley which borders the new project area.

The project will benefit farmers and the economy by helping eliminate the threat of bovine tuberculosis and is expected to bring an end to the ongoing widespread use of aerial 1080 to control predators within the region.

Up to 50 jobs are expected to be generated over the five years of the project, providing long-term career pathways for locals and young people. Community engagement has been occurring for some months and support for the project is strong, with various activities occurring including, community events, one on one contact with landowners, and engagement with local Runanga including having a seat at the governance level.

The first operations commenced in early 2022.

Q and A with the project, March 2024

What is your project most proud of?

Over the last five years, we’ve built an incredible team of extremely smart and capable people who are driven to pull off this ambitious goal. Everyone brings different knowledge and expertise, which means we have such a diverse range of skillsets in the crew. They’re all lovely, fun people, which is an excellent bonus. That has to be what we’re most proud of – it’s great being able to see them excel and get some big wins.

What stage is your project at?

We’re currently maintaining 85,000ha in a state of predator freedom, with the majority of this area in the defence and mop-up stages – which feels like a huge achievement! The current total project area for Predator Free South Westland is 107,000ha. We’re now preparing to do initial removal across the final two blocks this year. At this stage, we’re on track to have achieved elimination across the project area by mid 2025.

What’s next?

Keep growing the scale! We’re hoping to extend our project southwards, to protect and build off the gains we have made so far in South Westland. There’s really exciting potential that predator freedom also delivers better carbon sequestration in our native forests. The benefits of pest control could lead to viable homegrown carbon credits (to help offset Aotearoa NZ’s international commitments). We’ve begun a research project, in collaboration with the wider scientific community, to figure out exactly how far that potential might go.

What tools have been most useful for your project?

For us, the different combinations of several tools has allowed us to adapt to each environment better and better. The project site has great natural barriers – mountains and rivers. That was one of the main draws and set up the project really well. Another key for us has been figuring out the crucial importance of an effective detection network, especially at the boundaries. Our network of lured cameras gives us confidence we’re finding those last pockets of survivors and intercepting invaders quickly.

Launched March 11, 2021
PF2050Ltd investment $8.5m
Total project investment $45m
Funding commitment 5 years
Project lead Predator Free South Westland Ltd
Māori partners Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio
Collaborators The people of South Westland, Jobs for Nature, Department of Conservation, OSPRI and the NEXT Foundation.
Ambition Removal of rats, stoats and possums from 100,000ha.
Design Aerial toxin will be used in the large forested areas for the initial predator knock-down. This will be followed up by ground based control including trapping, hunting, and localised bait stations.
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