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Haven for black stilt purchased for $10 million

Haven for black stilt (kaki) purchased for $10 million

A huge high country station and haven for the critically endangered black stilt has been purchased by the Government to form the centrepiece of a vast new conservation park in the South Island.

Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today that the Nature Heritage Fund has bought Birchwood Station, spanning 23,783 ha in the Ahuriri Valley in North Otago, for a record $10m.

"This is a huge purchase by the Government and a significant step towards realising our vision of a network of high country parks and reserves on the eastern side of the Southern Alps," Mr Carter said.

"Birchwood is one of the jewels of the high country. Its value as a conservation and recreation area is difficult to overstate. The station is a crucial breeding area for black stilt or kaki, of which there are only about 250 left in the world, and several other severely threatened species, such as the black-fronted tern and wrybill.

"What is more, Birchwood contains a beautiful alpine landscape crisscrossed by rivers and streams teeming with trout and native fish. The climbing, fishing, walking and hunting in the area is magnificent," Mr Carter said.

"By protecting the station as conservation land we are ensuring public access to these recreational opportunities, and ensuring the survival of vital habitat for threatened species."

He said Birchwood was unique in that 62 years of intelligent farming by the station's owners, the Williamson family, had left some of the least modified valley floors in the eastern South Island.

"The Williamsons should be congratulated for their stewardship of Birchwood. It a key reason why the Government regarded this station as having such importance that it was prepared to pay $10m for it, the largest single purchase ever made by the Nature Heritage Fund.

"Birchwood's position at the head of Ahuriri Valley makes it an obvious candidate for forming part of a vast new conservation park in the future," Mr Carter said.

"It adjoins public conservation land to the east and a mixture of conservation land and pastoral land to the west and south. The potential of station is as large as the high country itself," Mr Carter said.

Ownership of Birchwood will not transfer until July. The Williamsons will continue to graze sheep on the lower valley of the station for a five-year transition period, although the balance of the property will not be grazed.

Key Facts: Black Stilt (Kaki)

· The kaki is a native wading bird with black plumage and long red legs. It is classified as nationally critical, the worst classification for a species.

· Once common, numbers plummeted to a low of 23 individuals in 1981, and since then the species has been under intensive management by the Department of Conservation (DoC).

· Thanks to a captive breeding programme in Twizel, DoC has significantly boosted the population in the last four years.

· There are 134 adult or sub-adult kaki in the wild, seven of which live in Birchwood Station.

· About 27 adult or subadult birds are also held in captivity, as well as 76 juveniles and chicks. Last week 22 juveniles were released into the wild.

· Eighty-five per cent of kaki in the wild were hatched and raised in captivity. This shows the success of captive breeding and the continued vulnerability of kaki in the wild.

· Only 4 per cent of eggs and chicks in the wild will grow into adults due to predation by stoats, feral cats, ferrets and hedgehogs.

· Birchwood will form an important part of DoC's kaki protection programme because it contains a vital breeding area for the birds.

· Until now, DoC staff have been unable to access the upper valley of the station during the kaki's spring breeding season because it coincided with lambing. This will change with the purchase of the station.

ENDS

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