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Gone bush .. Taking a look in Forest Hill scenic reserve are (from left) Good Nature representative Sam Gibson, Forest Hill Foundation Trust members Malcolm Mackenzie, Ken White, Agnes Irwin, Glenys Dickson and Jan Riddell. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The building of a $1.2mmillion predator-free fence around the smaller block in the Forest Hill scenic reserve will be a big step in a project which is fast becoming a major attraction in Southland.

Forest Hill Foundation Trust chairwoman Glenys Dickson, of Gore, said the scenic reserve which has two blocks, one of 530ha and the other of 46ha, was regionally significant.

The circumference of predator-free fencing at the reserve, near Lochiel, would be 3.8km and would cost about $1.2million.

The fence would also go underground, to make sure predators could not burrow underneath the structure.

It was hoped that the use of voluntary labour and donated materials would cut costs, Mrs Dickson said.

The trust is embarking on a fundraising round.

Formed in 2005, the trust was the brainchild of Mrs Dickson.

“At the time we wanted to predator-proof the Forest Hill,” she said.

But there was some resistance from a few neighbouring landowners.

“We have learned that lowland forest of outstanding value like Forest Hill Scenic Reserve is now very rare in New Zealand.”

Mrs Dickson described the forest as botanically outstanding and superior to similar forest remnants elsewhere, as the forest’s canopy was still intact and the diversity of plant life was nationally recognised.

Now the trust was raising funds to fence the smaller block.

“It’s quite small, but we did think it could be a breeding ground for wildlife and invertebrates that spill in to the main block,” she said.

Monitoring showed there were significant species, such as morepork and tomtits, living in the reserve in small numbers, she said.

Mice, rats, cats, hedgehogs, stoats and ferrets were among predators that needed to be controlled in the reserve.

“We counted 30 hedgehogs in traps,” Mrs Dickson said.

Kitten footprints were also found in monitoring tunnels.

“Cats are very destructive,” she said.

Pest eradication had been carried out with 1080 poison in trapping boxes.

“That way it didn’t get into water and there is less issues with dogs.

“We are moving away from using toxin 1080 and are fundraising to purchase A24 Good Nature traps that will control predators like stoats, ferrets, rats, stray cats – which do a lot of damage to wildlife – and hedgehogs that feed on weta and lizards, without using any toxins. The lure attracts them to the trap.”

The trap company is developing new lures to avoid bait shyness.

Trap mechanisms are now pressurised and work for up to 12 months with little servicing. They also come with counters.

One of the area’s special features is the limestone tomos or caves.