Weekly column by Kāpiti's Greater Wellington Regional Council representative Penny Gaylor.
Last Monday, May 3, was International Dawn Chorus Day, so I thought it timely to focus my column on part of the work undertaken in our region to tackle predators.
Every year rats, stoats and weasels — which were all introduced to New Zealand — kill about 25 million native birds in our country.
Until humans arrived, there were no mammals, aside from some bats. Now, 80 per cent of native bird species are in trouble and many are at risk of extinction.
Thankfully Predator Free Wellington is proving quite the force to tackle this problem and they have an astounding number of everyday citizens in their army of volunteers.
The vision of Predator Free Wellington (PFW) is to create the world's first predator free capital city, completely eradicating rats, possums, stoats and weasels from the entire Wellington Peninsula, a total area of 30,000 hectares, and in a city where around 212,000 people live.
PFW has successfully created a social movement with 20,000+ Wellingtonians now undertaking trapping across 50 suburbs throughout Wellington.
As well as growing a social movement, PFW is also undertaking a staged eradication across five phases over the next 10 years.
The first phase of the project in Miramar is almost complete, and they are now ready to step into the next eradication phase, Island Bay to the CBD. PFW can then continue rolling out the eradication in phases until the project reaches the city boundary at Porirua.
The eradications involve traps placed on a grid of 100m x 100m and bait stations placed every 50m x 50m. These are on private properties, in bush reserves, coastal and commercial areas.
Miramar Peninsula eradication involved laying 8000 traps and bait stations, 1800 community traps and 13,000 detection cards, and resulted in tens of thousands of rats killed. Big ups PFW.
Wellington volunteer backyard and reserve trappers have caught 67,807 pests. Their focus is on rats, stoats, weasels and possums.
Throughout the project, PFW have dissected and documented the rats caught, the Miramar Peninsula depot has a freezer full of dead rats! The autopsies determine if a rat has previously ingested poison, which gives a sense of how far it may have travelled and also note whether it's an adult, juvenile, lactating female, which help the team adapt planning.
Around 20,000 households in Wellington are trapping in their backyards and reserves. They do this voluntarily, and one backyard connects with other backyards and city green spaces to build wildlife corridors and contiguous habitats.
A recent survey by Wellington City Council showed that two-thirds of Wellingtonians are either involved in predator-free work or keen to be involved.
Connecting people to the environment by giving them first-hand experience of nature is key to motivating them to protect and conserve it. In the 1980s there were only 10 pairs of tui left in Wellington. The city had one of the worst biodiversity rates in the country.
Now there are tui everywhere, in fact 90 per cent of Wellington residents regularly spot tui from their backyard.
Whilst the reason for getting rid of predators is to bring back nature into the city, it's not just about saving the birds but about enriching people's lives as well.
Research shows volunteer trappers have a third lower depression scores, 25 per cent lower anxiety scores and 50 per cent lower stress scores compared to non-trappers.
Additionally, social cohesion scores are double for trappers, this could be derived from the added interpersonal connections people gain when participating in a community activity alongside nature, or trapping may encourage more considered observation of the natural environment, potentially leading to greater benefits.
From their work on the Miramar Peninsula, PFW now have a proof of concept for the rest of Wellington and potentially for the rest of the country, and we are ready to scale up.
Greater Wellington Regional Council provides both financial and technical expertise required to design and manage the operation, based on 25 years of biosecurity control in Wellington City and the region. Greater Wellington also manages the monitoring of native wildlife before, during, and after operations.