Scientists back plan to boost 1080 drops

The proposed plan for the 1080 drop.
The proposed plan for the 1080 drop.

Scientists are supporting the Government's plan to use targeted 1080 drops to protect native birds from an expected rat and stoat plague.

An abundance of beech seed this year is expected to cause a population explosion among stoats and rats in forests.

Under the "Battle for Our Birds" predator control programme, announced by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith last week, the Department of Conservation will treat up to an extra 500,000 hectares of conservation land with aerial 1080 application this year and next, should predator numbers increase.

The additional 1080 drop will increase the area of public conservation land treated for pests from 5 per cent to 12. The work is budgeted to cost $21 million over the next five years. DOC's annual budget is $335m.

Landcare Research scientist Dr Andrea Byrom, who leads the invasive weeds, pests and diseases portfolio, said an increase of predation on native species was not the only effect of increases in stoat and rat populations.

"There is also the indirect impact of competition: the predators will chomp their way through the seeds, fruits and invertebrates that are food for native birds and lizards."

University of Canterbury mathematician Associate Professor Alex James, who was involved in research modelling of high beech seed years, said "the planned 1080 drops are the best way to manage the predator outbreak".

Without predators, native birds would flourish on the beech seed, she said.

Ecotourism operator and Forest & Bird ambassador Dr Gerry McSweeney last year called for DOC to use more of its money to increase application of 1080 across the conservation estate.

McSweeney said he was pleased to see the department actively seeking to increase 1080 use. "It's a really exciting redirection of the department back to its basic function, which is to look after the land that it holds in trust for us.

"We're seeing a recognition that this is the only really effective tool we've got in the tool box for protecting and restoring big areas of wild New Zealand."

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright released a report in 2011 concluding that 1080 use should not only continue, but increase.

In response to last week's announcement, Wright said she was "delighted" by DOC's response to the predator threat.

"1080 is the only tool we have to control the plagues of rats and stoats," she said.

The Press