By Marcia Wilson
I had been trying to find a way to connect with my teenage daughter and give back to the community when my partner Dan suggested we volunteer with Ark in Park in the Waitakere Ranges of Auckland. I knew I loved the bush and our native birds and plants, so the initial idea of doing some volunteering and walking bait lines at a starting point seemed like a win-win.
Little did I know that bait lines would be a massive challenge to me personally. For those who don’t know, bait lines involve replacing rat bait stations along a set line though the bush. There are no real paths and it’s more bushbashing with sometimes little indication of the right direction to go.
While I loved it, I did get a little lost when I went out alone with my daughter. I must admit that when we found ourselves lost in the bush – bashing one direction to the next while trying to experience the relief of seeing a pink tape marker – we sometimes came close to wanting to make that our last time doing a line.
We both had to work on being patient and calm while finding the right direction and not take out our frustration on each other. We came to laugh at all the cuts from cutty grass and other hazards out there. While I tried teaching Zahra about ‘bush lawyer’, she still had to learn the hard way! I must admit that is how Dan taught me about ongaonga when out hiking.
Despite Zahra and I generally figuring out the lines, it was much more enjoyable and less stressful when Dan came along with us. Long term, however, he preferred to head out on difficult lines alone so he could push his skills and do the lines that the majority of volunteers were not quite up for.
So when some vacancies came up for working on pest trap lines, I was really keen to get involved with something a little different. My daughter sold me on the idea as she was really keen to deal with what we would find in the traps . . . something that I really was not so sure about. Dan had a line that he did on the fourth weekend of every month. I had gone with him a few times, so had a fair idea of what I was getting into. We tried a couple of lines and settled on a great easy line just next to a golf course. I was excited, as it was only a three kilometre return walk with ten DOC 200 traps and a few PBTs and two cat traps.
Oh my goodness, cat traps! They were something to get my head around; but thankfully, I have only had a rat in one to date. So while I signed up to get out in nature, learn new things and spend time with my teenage daughter, we only managed to go out together once in six months. It has worked out that on the fourth weekend of every month, she is usually with her dad. So, this trap line has become my own adventure to get out into the bush, learn more about our native plants and really appreciate the bird life.
I admit it was a real push outside my comfort zone to get comfortable with clearing the traps. I worked through clearing rats in the DOC 200s easy enough, but my first hedgehog in a PBT trap was something else. What first hit me was the offensive smell! The smell of a dead animal is not something I’d ever had to handle. But I promise you do get used to it. I’m so glad that a hedgehog’s foot can be grabbed or I’m not sure how I would have removed it from the trap. Dan was out with me that day having a good chuckle at my face, as you can probably imagine.
Eight months on and I really do love my trap line weekends. It’s so satisfying when you have caught something to know what you are doing is making a difference to our biodiversity. On my line there are frequent kereru and fantails. I know I do this for them, as well as the potential increases in population and the nearby nesting kokako in the Ark. Through volunteering I learn more about our native plants and discover things like the basket-fungus (or otherwise known as the ‘poo of a ghost)’. I didn’t think to take a photo, so Google that for yourself.
I was so proud of the line when six weeks ago, I took out two new volunteers to show them what to do and where to find the traps on the line. We didn’t have any catches that day, which was disappointing. While I am still not an expert, I really have learnt a lot in my short time volunteering. I have come to love that feeling of doing my bit to help eradicate our pests. So while it’s always a great time to get out into the bush, it’s like the icing on the cake to have something in a trap.
Ark in the Park is a great volunteering organization with a diverse range of people giving up their time to help make a difference. I haven’t been to the Saturday bait line sessions in a while, but oh man they do a mean BBQ every week for the people out that day. It’s a great way to meet new people, learn about their backgrounds and get out into the otherwise off access Waitakere bush. Unfortunately for us, so many lines are closed for Kauri dieback.
I highly recommend that if you are looking for a way to volunteer and love our native bush, working a trap line or volunteering with a group like Ark in Park in Auckland is well worth your time. It’s fully flexible and there are so many options for how you can get involved and give your time towards a good cause!