An ambitious project to create a virtually predator-free 16.5 square kilometre 'Mainland Island' in Kapiti is about to step up a gear.
A grant of $294,000 has been awarded to the Kapiti Coast Biodiversity Project by the Ministry for the Environment, based on a pitch by a collective of conservation groups working together.
The groups hope to create an intensive pest-controlled zone almost the size of Kapiti Island. It would cover Paekakariki township, Queen Elizabeth Park, Whareroa Farm Reserve, and part of the Perkins/Middle Run farm.
Raumati, Pukerua Bay and farmland surrounding the larger zone would be important "halo" areas, where work would also be carried out.
Spokesman for the group Dr Paul Callister said the main parties behind the project are Nga Uruora, the Whareroa Farm, and Friends of Queen Elizabeth Park groups, with support from the Paekakariki Rat Pack.
"In some ways this is the Kapiti Coast's version of Zealandia, except we are trying to do it without an expensive fence.
"Instead we are using trapping methods, but we have the same aim of bringing back birds such as kaka and kakariki to the coast, as well as protecting other flora and fauna."
Similar projects such as Ark in the Park in the Waitakere Ranges showed it could be done, he said.
"They are very successful, they've got birds like kokako and stitchbirds back in, the really rare birds.
"We know that kaka and kakariki will arrive at some point from Zealandia, so we're trying to do the ground preparation for that."
The small groups had already put considerable work into pest control and replanting, but with more funds for traps, and hopefully more volunteers, they could increase their efforts and "join up the gaps", he said.
"We've already seen the birds increasing. It's hard to quantify, but kereru are much more common, and tui - we're hearing moreporks a lot more.
"This is a 10, 20, 50 year project … this is all for the next generation as much as us; it's a long-haul plan."
The grant would be divided between funding work to increase trapping lines, and a number of support projects like a survey to see what lizard populations remain, and how they can be supported.