New Zealand will succeed in its ambition to be predator free by 2050 because the alternative is unthinkable to New Zealanders.

Unless we grasp the opportunity to fight back against these insidious invaders there will be no kiwi left by 2050. No kea, no kaka or kokako. We'll be lucky to have a few fantails in the garden.

The decline of our native birds, insects and reptiles has been so steep, and the increase in predator populations so marked, that this campaign really is our last chance to save from extinction the things we treasure, and which make New Zealand special and different.

Take our national symbol, the kiwi. Its national population has been declining at about two percent per annum for decades as stoats, rats, wild cats and possums grow in frightening numbers. At this rate, in 50 years there will be none left in the wild.


The only salvation for kiwi is to ensure it breeds in predator-free habitats. This is now happening to a limited degree. The predator free campaign will ensure there are vastly more areas of safe habitat for them, and their fellow indigenous species, to thrive in future.

I think of this campaign in a military context. We need to repel a very well entrenched invasion. The pests we must eradicate number in tens of millions. They have found their way to every corner of our country.

They breed ferociously, they kill at night, they are wily and resilient. The Department of Conservation estimates they are destroying native birds at a rate of 26 million birds a year. A shocking figure - small wonder New Zealand has the worst record in the world for extinctions.

To co-ordinate and lead the battle, Predator Free 2050 was created last year. Its ultimate goal is obvious from its name, but its short term targets are to create large areas of New Zealand free of predators, and to accelerate technologies that can be operated at that scale, including multi-kill traps and wireless technologies.

Because we won't win this war by killing the enemy one by one.

Our current methods and technologies are often time-consuming and relatively blunt instruments.

On the positive side, however, we have in our DOC and TB Free (Ospri Ltd) the world's most experienced predator management technicians, as well as some very clever scientists in our crown research institutes and universities.

Most importantly, we have a huge and growing army of volunteers who are already doing their bit all over the country.

A national movement is needed to co-ordinate on-the-ground battle plans and investments in new technologies.

Without an organisation with a national overview it will be impossible to repel the invasion at the level we need to, and then defend our borders from re-invasion.

The launch of Predator Free 2050 stirred widespread interest. Numerous regional and district councils are launching their own predator free targets.

Auckland Council, perhaps the most ambitious of all, with a third of the country's population, will start by protecting its public open spaces, and work with private landowners to create safe pest-free corridors of native bush, then expand this footprint year by year.

Predator Free Wellington has been running for a bit longer, and a recent survey showed 90 per cent of Wellington residents supported it.

The national organisation will also maximise public and private investment by matching Government funds. With growing financial support from philanthropists, councils, iwi and other landowners, it will target landscapes that present most potential.

Meanwhile, organisations like Predator Free Trust, with partners like Kiwibank, support community conservation group.

Individual home-owners are now motivated to get rid of the rat in their compost bin or take control of their cat at night, aware now that these familiar mammals present a real danger to the birds we enjoy in our gardens.

As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment observed in her report last month, volunteers and community groups need practical, uncomplicated support from funding agencies.

In the background to this campaign is the prospect of a new technology that will potentially allow us to eradicate an entire predator species from New Zealand.

A recent research breakthrough using genetic editing techniques has enabled the disruption of the reproduction cycle in a disease-carrying mosquito. Could we do the same with a rat?

Carefully controlled genetic editing is a very different process to genetic engineering, and is generally accepted as safe in the development of new medicines.

The Predator Free 2050 announcement also stirred international interest. When a skeptical journalist asked a US conservation leader if this was a mad idea, the response was, "Look at the passion of New Zealanders for their native birds and their decades of experience in mammalian predator control. If any country can do this, the Kiwis can."

It's true that time is against us. It will be a near run thing for some bird species. But that only highlights that this is our last chance to save them.

And if you feel the same sense of heartfelt connection, of wanting them be in our natural landscape for future generations, you'll do something about it.

You'll buy a rat trap or you'll join a neighbourhood conservation group, or you'll make a donation to an organisation involved. Today.

Environmentalist and businessman Sir Rob Fenwick chairs the Predator Free NZ Trust and the Kiwis for kiwi Trust. He is a director of Predator Free 2050 and environmental advisor to the NEXT Foundation. For more than 30 years he and his family have run a predator control programme on their 300ha bush block at Te Matuku, Waiheke Island.