• Nick Smith

The Minister of Conservation Nick Smith, today announced the purchase, by the Department of Conservation, of a key privately-owned section of the Waipori-Waihola wetland complex south of Dunedin.

"The entire Waipori-Waihola wetland complex south of Dunedin is now safe from development. This new section adds to those areas already protected by a Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenant or will be protected by the proposed Clutha District Plan".

The recently purchased area, comprising 117ha, contained a large lagoon and several ponds. The block, which is surrounded by water, was sold to the department by Titri farmer Mr R.W. Sinclair after more than 20 years of negotiations.

"As a habitat for aquatic birds and native freshwater fish, the wetland is of immense value. The whole complex is the largest lowland freshwater wetland in the South Island and certainly the most important habitat for water birds in Otago. About 60 bird species use the wetland, including the threatened marsh crake, spotless crake, bittern and South Island fernbird.

"The Sinclair block is probably the most valuable area in the complex for wading birds such as South Island pied oystercatcher and pied stilt. Ducks such as New Zealand shoveler and grey teal are commonly seen here as well, and the complex overall is an important link in the national chain of wetlands.

"As a habitat for native freshwater fish, the Waihola/Waipori complex is also very special, with no fewer than 12 species recorded here. They include species that contribute to the whitebait catch, including the threatened giant kokopu.

"New Zealand has lost 90 percent of its wetland areas to land development of one sort or another, and in keeping with this trend the edges of the Waipori-Waihola complex have been progressively drained for agricultural development over recent decades. The deal with Mr Sinclair will retain the integrity of the wetland.

The complex is of major significance to Ngai Tahu, and is a popular gamebird hunting and recreational fishing area. The purchase has been made in the context of the Lakes Waipori and Waihola Wetland Management Statement, which calls for the protection and enhancement of the ecology of the wetland..

Mr Sinclair has also sold the forested catchment of Muddy Gully, on the south side of the lower Taieri Gorge, to the department. The 112ha purchase will increase the size of the Taieri River Scenic Reserve by about a third. A popular walking track explores the reserve, skirting the river most of the way.

Muddy Gully contains a nationally important plant community known as carr, which is established on wet, fertile soils of the valley floor. It features an association of cabbage tree, kanuka, manuka, coprosma and toetoe. The valley also supports a remnant stand of podocarp trees such as kahikatea, rimu, totara and matai, and the northernmost stand of kamahi on the South Island east coast. A diverse array of native birds inhabits the forest.

"The two purchases, which have been the subject of designations going back many years, represent important biodiversity gains for Otago".