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SIMON.HENDERSON

@thenews.co.nz

Sending signals into space could save native birds in Upper Clutha.

The Central Otago-Lakes Branch of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand is planning to install 50 traps in the Matukituki Valley next month.

Committee member Andrew Penniket said each trap was equipped with a transmitter that sent a signal when a pest was captured.

That signal was relayed via a relay hub to a satellite, which then was able to distribute information to cellphones and computers.

Volunteers could see the information and know exactly which trap needed to be cleared.

The focus for this project would be the braided rivers of Makarora, Matukituki, Hunter, Dart and Rees.

“They have all got their own suite of birds,” Mr Penniket said.

Birds needing protection included the black-fronted tern, black-billed gull, and the wrybill – the only bird in the world with a beak that bent sideways.

Other birds included plover, oyster catchers, and the black stilt which had “pretty limited numbers”.

The birds were all “quite vulnerable” because of predators including cats, ferrets, possums and stoats.

The system used “live traps”, which captured animals but did not kill them.

The advantage of this was pets could be identified if they strayed into the traps.

The branch was aiming to build a photo library of cats in the area to ensure domestic pets could be returned to owners if they were accidentally trapped.

Another advantage of using live traps was if birds were trapped they could be released.

Funding for the project was helped by a $27,400 grant from the Central Lakes Trust, and a local family had provided funds for the first year of satellite fees of about $6500.

The trap and satellite communications system was created by Auckland’s Encounter Solutions.

Founder Simon Croft said the system was built “essentially from the ground up” in New Zealand.

It was able to be configured to provide useful data for environmental groups.

As well as signalling when the traps were triggered, the system could also show information including temperature, rainfall and other weather events.They had installed systems across the country, and many of their users were not-for profit organisations.

One of the benefits was the amount of data that could be collected, allowing users to fine-tune their placement of traps to ensure the best result.

Because the system showed the date and time that traps were activated, over time it could show an annual picture of pest activity, Mr Croft said.

A similar system was established at the beginning of the year by the Aspiring Biodiversity Trust at rock wren nesting habitats within the Makarora catchment.

Ecologist and ornithologist Rachel Hufton said the project was a trial for the alpine environment. “We’ve had triggers for stoats already.”

About 40 “kea-proof invasive mammal traps” were fitted with detection nodes, and a relay hub was installed within the upper Wilkin valley and a second hub in the Siberia Valley.

The aim was rock wren protection, but other species, including kea and blue duck, would also benefit from predator capture, she said.

“We’ve had triggers of stoats at 1200m, where they have not been recorded before within rock wren territory.”

Even catching low numbers of stoats was known to have an impact on fledgling success.

“One stoat can kill a lot of birds.”