By Gillian Wadams, Former F&B Acting Manager – National Projects

There are bold ambitions and an exciting momentum bubbling in the conservation sector, in particular the nationwide Predator Free 2050 initiative, the many pest or predator free cities, as well as the natural features and neighbourhoods that the overall aim has inspired, encouraged or rejuvenated.

It is recognised that to achieve large conservation gains we must innovate, and we are! Working with tough weed species, as well as intelligent animal predators means that conservation work requires constant adaptation to continue managing pests. This has always happened informally with groups sharing their stories of success and failure. Now the PF2050 initiative has ramped up this process with a strong focus on innovative tools and getting them to market.

A previous Backcountry article highlighted the impressive work of several tramping clubs working to protect Pureora forests through predator control. Forest and Bird featured in the ‘Kindred Organisations’ issue and this article follows on from that.

The collective F&B national effort is made up of many parts. F&B projects and branches vary in scale, scope and structure. This creates a type of genetic diversity that conservationists strive to achieve in native populations to ensure resilience and adaptability – two essential characteristics in today’s uncertain world of climate change and COVID.

Small branch projects focus on local parks undertaking any or all of weeding, planting, trapping, baiting, monitoring for pests and monitoring of native species through five minute bird counts, bioblitzes or other methods.

Brilliantly coloured flowering rātā, seen here at Ark in the Park, is a species that particularly benefits from predator control as it is favourite food of possums; Photo credit:  Gillian Wadams

Other branches focus more on advocacy with stalls at events or visits, talks to school groups, U3A or other special interest groups. These tend to be in cities or towns – places where people outnumber wildlife. Therefore, this work does an essential job in influencing development to project those all important pockets and corridors for wildlife.

Other branch projects take in vast landscapes where people are few. These projects in particular are making use of innovations such as remote sensing for trap triggers, multi-kill traps and long life lures.

F&B projects known as National projects tend to be large or complex, often protecting threatened species for which specific monitoring or translocation plans exist, and often across multiple ecosystem types and incorporating advocacy or education for school and tertiary students. Many of which produce data or studies to contribute to the national knowledge pool. These projects involve staff, contractors and volunteers.

Partnering is increasingly important, with many funders now requiring co-funding of projects. F&B branches and projects typically partner with mana whenua, DOC, local government, landowners, educational institutes and more.

Much mention is made of needing to inspire the youth of today to become informed and to take action, and rightfully so. We must also acknowledge those currently doing the work, many of whom are retirees, or at least those who have swapped employment for often full-time volunteering!

F&B have long had the Kiwi Conservation Club, and are now actively facilitating youth to develop and maintain a youth led network. Both these networks provide opportunities for locally based hands-on volunteering, as well as campaigning on regional or national issues.

How To Get Involved?

There are various options for online or hands-on volunteering, and with many different levels of physical fitness required. It’s election year in 2023, so it’s a great time to start thinking politically. Connect with local MPs and start asking questions about party policy. Use your vote to support nature.

Suppression vs eradication – What does predator free really mean?

Sometimes conservation groups may adopt the name of Pest or Predator Free, in keeping with the national goal, though they may be working to suppress predators and pests rather than entirely eliminate them. Some groups though are very clear that the work programme is to achieve eradication.

Suppression can often be enough to allow significant recovery of plant and animal native species, and all the while new tools and technology are being developed and refined allowing us greater gains of biodiversity recovery in future.

The number of rats in a forest, urban area or sanctuary can be estimated by a method that uses inked cards to record footprints of rats lured through tunnels by peanut butter. The percentage of tunnels containing 1 or more rat footprint is used as an indice for comparing rat numbers across different seasons, sites or predator control regimes.

Targets are set by DOC or species recovery groups for groups to achieve to protect existing or reintroduced species. For toutouwai or North Island robin it has been shown that highest survival and reproductive rates are achieved if ship rats are maintained below 5%, note not necessarily zero, but these birds can survive and breed (though with less success and a loss of genetic diversity) at densities of greater than 25%.

(Parlato and Armstrong, 2021 & 2013)