Rats and possums won't have been on lockdown while the rest of us were - a fact that's troubling volunteers still unable to continue pest control work in the community.

Two-thirds of the Coromandel Peninsula is Department of Conservation land and volunteers play an important role in reducing pests on this land and on harbour and wetland margins.

John McCombe, Whangamata Harbour Care president, said efforts were at risk of being unravelled if they couldn't get back out to set predator traps.

For the past four weeks baits have been out and by now rats will be foraging for food in other areas.


"If you don't get on top of the problem now, it's going to be months to get it back to where we were," he said.

Whangamata Harbour Care's John Dick with a banded rail chick killed by predators in the Whangamata inner harbour. The chick displayed wounds inflicted by a stoat. Photo / John McCombe
Whangamata Harbour Care's John Dick with a banded rail chick killed by predators in the Whangamata inner harbour. The chick displayed wounds inflicted by a stoat. Photo / John McCombe

Whangamata Harbour Care has 18 people servicing distances that can take half a day a week and none of these volunteers have been able to continue their work since late March.

He said rats would double their population in eight weeks if left unchecked.

"If that happens we have a potential catastrophe on our hands for bird populations."

DoC Hauraki operations manager Avi Holzapfel said volunteers should not check trap lines on public conservation land or other public land when the country moves to level 3.

"Checking trap lines carries a risk of injury, particularly in remote areas, which puts pressure on already overstretched emergency services. Handling shared equipment such as traps, traps boxes, radios, PLBs, and first aid kits increases the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

"Even if your trap line is close to home, do not go and check it," he said.

There has been no professional or contracted pest control work on public conservation land while New Zealand has been at Covid-19 level 4.


"We're fortunate this lockdown has occurred in March-April, as it's not peak breeding season for most of our bird species. This is a time of year when some trap lines are being checked less frequently than they would be in peak breeding season – October-February," Holzapfel said.

As to whether DoC or the regional council had made any approaches to the Government to allow this work to continue under the eased level, he said work would be limited.

"Level 3 will allow for resumption of limited field work but only where we can be assured of meeting MoH guidelines as well as our own health and safety requirements."

Stuart Husband, Waikato regional councillor and chairman of the river and catchment management committee, said rules set out under alert level 4 were clear that biosecurity was an essential service, but only to enable the council to support the Ministry for Primary Industries with a response to any new biosecurity incursions.

"We appreciate some people are concerned that gains made to control pests prior to lockdown may have been lost over the last four weeks, so it's great that council staff and contractors will be able to get back into pest control work under alert level 3.

"There are of course some restrictions that will need to be in place so the council is meeting government requirements that ensure the safety of staff, contractors and the wider community.

"I'm confident they'll be able to resume many aspects of the council's entire pest control programme."

Whangamata Harbour Care is advising people that they can help by following some simple advice:

• Avoid throwing bread and other food scraps on to lawns, and if you do want to feed birds, do so from suspended bird feeders
• Use a robust plastic bin with a lid that can be secured for storing rubbish bags particularly while collections are fortnightly
• Set an indicative trap to see if you have vermin in your vicinity
• Buy rat or mouse bait from your supermarket and set it as per instructions or use peanut butter as bait in traps