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Set a trap for them dirty rats

It’s not every day that I write a real ‘good news’ story, but today’s article about the recently established group Predator Free Featherston has me smiling.

Our native wildlife is an irreplaceable treasure, and here in Wairarapa, there is so much work to do to bring those beautiful birds back into our towns.

Introduced mammal predators have decimated so many native bird populations that are now threatened, endangered, or extinct.

This valley, which would have previously heard the songs of millions of native birds, is quieter than it should be, and predation from rats, stoats, weasels, and possums is in large part to blame.

In our towns, it’s not even that common to see a tūī or a fantail, much less a kingfisher or a kākāriki.

Wairarapa is such a beautiful landscape that could be home to millions of native birds once more.

But to get there, we need to kill a lot of pests.

I’m inspired by the Department of Conservation’s initiative to eliminate those mammal pest species by 2050, and I’m even more inspired by grassroots community organisations with the vision and the drive to get it done.

What Daniel Millar has started in Featherston is a road map for how we, as ordinary civilians, can help work away at a project that will take decades to achieve.

So, how could it succeed? New Zealand is home to tens of millions of pest mammals that can quickly breed and multiply.

Furthermore, Featherston, like all our region’s towns, is effectively an island surrounded by a vast sea of forest and farmland filled with rats and stoats ready to reinvade.

Millar’s answer is that any successful approach needs to be organised and have significant community buy-in, with towns gridded with traps and a good system for reporting catches.

The approach has been demonstrated successfully in Wellington’s Miramar, with the predator-free border now pushing well into Newtown, Hataitai, and Oriental Bay.

Since extensive scale trapping eliminated rats and possums there, the peninsula has seen a 550 per cent increase in fantails, a 275 per cent increase in grey warblers, and a 49 per cent increase in tūī.

Meanwhile, Taranaki is in its sixth year of intensive predator control.

Starting in 2018, with no organised trapping, the region now has tens of thousands of backyard and farm traps surrounding the mountain in a wall, pushing all the way out to the sea.

Huge community engagement, with collaboration between farmers and townies, is starting to turn the tide against predators on Taranaki’s ring plain.

Eventually, with some years of grassroots organisation and work, our Wairarapa towns, too, could become a safer place for our birds to live.

Once the towns are under control, it’s a matter of slowly pushing the trap boundary outwards, moving from urban rats onto stoats, weasels, and possums in the countryside and bush.

Maybe we’ll see our valley more like it was in past centuries, full of birds from Pūkaha Mount Bruce and down the Ruamāhanga River to Palliser Bay.

It’s a brilliant vision grounded in a practical, methodical approach with proven results.

I hope 500 Featherston people agree to keep a rat trap in their yard; it really could be the start of a good thing.

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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