Coming home

August 12, 2019 3:26 pm

As I’ve travelled recently it’s struck me that conservation is coming home.

For too long our success stories have played out on remote island settings, well out of the sight and involvement of the public.

But in recent workshops hosted by the Predator Free New Zealand Trust I learned how powerfully the story of returning wildlife can resonate with the values that New Zealanders hold most dearly. Surveys show our strongest values relate to enhancing the welfare of people, appreciating and protecting nature and creating our own destiny.

I learned how carefully designed engagement strategies can draw out the best in our national character. In Wellington recent surveys show that 92 percent of residents support the city’s predator free efforts, helping make the removal of predators from whole suburbs feasible.

In Miramar, 3000 residents have granted permission for rat and stoat traps to be set and checked on their properties by a team of two dozen specially-trained conservation workers. The peninsula is expected to be clear of predators by Christmas.

In Taranaki, I spent time in the field with project managers Steve Ellis and Toby Shanley, traversing rugged country to view a barrier of traps, surveillance and communication devices set up to defend a 4,500ha area where possums are being removed from forest, farmland and township.

Steve Ellis and Toby Shanley
PHOTOS: Towards Predator-Free Taranaki project team Steve Ellis and Toby Shanley go bush

Zero Invasive Predators, which designed the equipment used in the barrier, this week reported the successful removal of all possums, rats and stoats from a remote 11,000-hectare valley on the West Coast (without killing tahr or kea) and plans to defend it from reinvasion using rivers and mountains as natural barriers.

Helped by an alliance with the Provincial Growth Fund, we are funding production of ZIP’s suite of ‘remove and protect’ tools plus another 10 innovative new predator control products being designed and developed by New Zealand companies.
Ultimately, our goal is to shift from ongoing suppression to permanent removal of predators across landscapes where people live, work and play.

Meanwhile, along the way there are plenty of causes for celebration.

The Otago Daily Times this month ran a photo on its front page of a South Island robin/ toutouwai taken by a young photographer in a city park. It was the first sighting of robins in the area for 50 years.

In the Hawkes Bay, translocated robins have also spread their wings into areas under intensive predator control and seabirds are able to return to forest areas that have long been abandoned.

In Auckland bellbirds/ korimako have been seen recently at Whangaparaoa and Kohimarama, kākā at Northcote, Devonport and St Heliers, kākāriki on Waiheke, bats/ pekapeka in Patumahoe and weta in the Manukau lowlands.

On our climb out of a steep ravine we stop for a breather and Toby shows me a video he’s taken on his phone of a flock of 30 kererū crossing the sky, a sight unthinkable just a decade ago.

It’s a story that will be repeated again and again, as community willingness and technological innovation come together to enable the permanent return of native wildlife to mainland New Zealand.

Kereru photo by Rod Morris/ rodmorris.co.nz

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