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Featherston sets a big rat trap

Featherston’s rats better watch out – a new community group aims to eradicate the predators from the town as part of a broader mission to protect native wildlife.

Predator Free Featherston aims to get a rat trap into 500 backyards, or roughly half the houses in the town.

The group is a grassroots project that aims to contribute to the ambitious Department of Conservation [DOC] goal of killing every rat, stoat, and possum in New Zealand by 2050.

Those three introduced predator species are some of the most damaging to our native birds, reptiles, and plants, killing an estimated 25 million native birds a year.

Founder Daniel Millar has just moved to Featherston from Newtown, where he learnt the ropes of backyard pest control from volunteers at the well-established Predator Free Wellington group.

He said every second household in the Miramar Peninsula in Wellington has a trap; over the past several years, rats have been mostly eradicated there, resulting in a resurgence of birdlife.

“That’s where the target for having a trap in 50 per cent of Featherston yards comes from; there are roughly 1000 houses in the town, so half of those should be a good goal for the first step of our project,” Millar said.

When you sign up for the group, volunteers will come to your house, give you a trap, and show you how to use it, as well as how to report catches on Featherston’s trap.nz website.

As trap custodians, group members will be responsible for checking their trap at least every two weeks to rebait it, and if it contains a dead animal, they will to need to report the species and date to the trap.nz website.

Millar said that by reporting catches, the group will be able to build data locating rat hotspots in Featherston that may need more traps and more frequent checking.

The website also allows members to check to see how their neighbours’ trapping operations are progressing.

Members are encouraged to generate a sense of community by posting their kills on the Predator Free Featherston Facebook group.

“Rats are the first target species because they’re the most prolific in towns, and they’re easy to catch,” Millar said.

“Rat trapping will enable us to build awareness of the predator-free vision, and to get community engagement and competency, so we can start targeting possums and stoats, which devastate our bird populations.”

Featherston is surrounded by farmland and bush, making it prone to constant reinvasion from predators. The project’s second phase will involve setting trap lines on the town border and neighbouring farms.

Millar said the traps cost $30 each, but he has applied for funding from different organisations to offer them at half price.

“If people pay for traps, they can have a sense of ownership of them, but if you can’t afford one, we will just give you one, and if you are in a position to give a little money back, we’ll happily take it and use it to get more traps out into the community,” Miller said.

The group’s long-term goal is to expand its pest control operation outwards, merging with Predator Free Martinborough and eventually connecting with the national Predator Free 2050 organisation.

You can join the Facebook Group “Predator Free Featherston”, which has a link to a sign-up form.

Predator Free Featherston will also take sign-ups at the St. Teresa’s School Gala on Sunday, September 3.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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