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Published: 2005-03-01 00:00:00

Landowners around the Punga Punga wetland west of Meremere are working together to control possums in the area.

The 118 landowners have been concerned about pest damage in the wetland, which includes a highly valued 349 hectare Key Ecological Site. The area, on the western bank of the Waikato River between Mercer and Rangiriri, is home to nationally threatened Australasian bittern, North Island fernbirds and spotless crake as well as many common wetland plant and animal species. It is also used by duck hunters.

A steering group of landowners and Environment Waikato biosecurity staff was set up early last year to look at the problems and how to deal with them. Monitoring last winter showed the possum population in the wetland was extremely high, even though a wetland is usually not prime habitat for possums.

Environment Waikato requires 75 percent of landowners to support a community possum scheme and 88 percent of the area’s landowners approved the idea. Environment Waikato pays for all the initial control costs to knock the possum population down to low levels and pays for monitoring.

Landowners then pay a specially targeted rate every year to cover the costs of contracting a professional pest control company to maintain the low numbers. Environment Waikato also pays the costs of the 349 ha key ecological site area, which subsidises the rest of the scheme and makes it cheaper for all the landowners.

Work began in early February to treat the total area of 3471 ha and will finish later this month. Ducks will not be disturbed prior to the duck shooting season and the contractor has used poisons acceptable to the landowners.

Biosecurity Committee Chairman David Peart said the cooperation shown on the project was an example of how communities could achieve real outcomes for economic and environmental enhancement.

Environment Waikato operations manager Peter Russell said once possums were controlled the steering group hoped to look at other issues in the wetland, including controlling feral cats which posed a threat to local wildlife.