Timber: Contractors with logs ready for sale after a wilding tree operation at the Wilson Bay carpark earlier this month


Wakatipu’s wilding warriors have received a major funding windfall, but still have a battle on their hands, they say.

The Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group’s budget for the current financial year is more than $5 million — a big jump on the $2m it spent in the 2019-2020 year.

It’s the area’s chunk of $100m from central government for wilding control throughout the
country in this year’s Budget, and a quantum leap on the $90,000 the group spent in the first year after its formation a decade ago.

Group chairman Grant Hensman says it’s ‘‘not winning the battle’’ in many areas and much remains to be done, but the money’s giving it a ‘‘real chance to turn the tide’’.

‘‘Up to that point, we were struggling.

‘‘I liken it to bailing a boat; why bail a boat for 100 years if you can fix the damn leak?

‘‘What the funding’s doing is giving us the opportunity to plug that leak.’’

Funnelled through the Ministry for Primary Industries, the $5m is being bolstered by $500,000 from Queenstown’s council and about $880,000 from local landowners.

All up, the group’s getting $11m over four years from the government, with about 40% of
that ‘‘front-loaded’’ this year because, Hensman says, ‘‘the sooner you get rid of seeding
trees, the less work you have to do in the long term’’.

The balance will be paid out in diminishing amounts over the next three years.

The money’s allowing it to slightly expand its area of operations, including to Glenorchy,
and to intensify its work — particularly in following up in previously-treated areas to
prevent reinfestation.

Ground crews have been working since the start of the current year of operation, from
July 1, with aerial spraying and lancing likely to ramp up in November and continue through to March.

Ground work: Contractors and Workforce Alliance workers during a wilding control operation on Ben Lomond in August

Although the control methods are the same, Hensman says the nature of the work is changing as it moves closer to urban areas.

‘‘As we get on top of the wider areas in the backcountry and get closer into town, there are more landowners to deal with — with differing views — and it becomes more visible.’’

With aerial spraying near housing out of the question, the work has to be carried out by
ground crews.

The group’s holding its annual ‘‘reporting to the community’’ night at Skyline Queenstown on October 14, and Hensman says one of his key messages will be ‘‘we have to change the backdrop to town’’.

Queenstown Hill and Bob’s Peak remain major seed sources, and he wants that to change.

Queenstown Hill Station’s owners are onboard, and control work is likely to start there within the next five years.

But Bob’s Peak, with its multitude of owners, ‘‘could take longer’’.

The work on Queenstown Hill won’t have a major visible impact, he says.

‘‘There are species of trees in that area that are not a wilding issue, such as pinus radiata, so it’s a matter of taking out the problem species out from between them.

‘‘It’s not denuding the hill, and it’s not spraying the whole hill.’’