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Published: 2007-04-03 00:00:00

When was the last time you saw a tui feeding in your garden?

That question is likely to be a real head-scratcher for Hamilton residents, where the native songbirds are a rare sight.

In fact the only tui that have successfully made a home in Hamilton live at Taitua Arboretum on the city’s fringe, in a nest protected by Hamilton City Council staff.

“Unlike other urban areas in New Zealand, Hamilton city has very few iconic native birds like tui, bellbird and kereru,” said Environment Waikato councillor Paula Southgate.

“In the Waikato region only 27 per cent of tui chicks survive to leave their nests, which means there are relatively few birds to take advantage of all the plantings and gully restorations that have been done in the city.”

Environment Waikato wants to change that. It is currently investigating an exciting new project designed to boost biodiversity and bring tui back to sing in Hamilton gardens.

“To increase the number of tui and other native birds visiting Hamilton, we need to increase breeding success in areas of bush and forest around the city,” Councillor Southgate said.

“This is a perfect example of how the city and surrounding rural areas depend on each other.

“We know tui will fly up to 20 km to feed, so we want to draw a 20 km radius around Hamilton, and identify sites where they can breed safely within this ‘halo’.

“Our number one target is ship rats, whose exceptional climbing abilities allow them to reach nests and kill eggs and chicks. Our forests are crawling with rats and they are absolutely hammering tui and other native bird populations. If we can control rats we believe tui numbers will rocket.

“If we can get rat numbers low before tui start to breed, tui will have a fighting chance.”

The halo project will complement the substantial efforts that have already gone into planting food sources for tui by Hamilton residents and Hamilton City Council, and will also target possums.

Similar biodiversity restoration efforts in other areas, such as Wellington, have been successful.

“The Wellington projects have shown rapid results with birds returning to the urban area,” Councillor Southgate said.

“There’s no reason we can’t achieve that in Hamilton too, with the support of the local community.

“The halo project will complement other work already being done by other agencies. We are working with Waikato University, Landcare Research, Department of Conservation, Tui 2000, and the Waikato, Waipa and Hamilton City councils to refine the project plan. I am especially pleased that Federated Farmers has already said they will support the project.”

Environment Waikato’s Draft Regional Pest Management Strategy is open for submissions until April 10. In it, the council proposes to increase the area of land under pest control from 70 per cent of the region to 90 per cent within five years.

With the general emphasis of pest control shifting to biodiversity and environmental protection, Environment Waikato’s 2007/08 Draft Annual Plan contains a proposal to replace all existing pest control rates with one region wide rate based on capital value.

Comments on the proposals can be sent to: Freepost Environment Waikato, P O Box 4010, Hamilton East 2032.