In the hands of a skilled pest-controller, a tracking station tells an incredible story – an open book of the comings and goings of rats, mice, hedgehogs, insects, birds, even the occasional family pet.

    Attracted by a knob of peanut butter, the visitors to the one we have between neighbouring sections on Queens Drive leave their inky footprints all over the clean white tracking cardboard. We then send that cardboard off to Ratbusters coordinator Sally Horwood and she sends us back a who’s who of our nasty, gnawing neighbours.

    At this time of year, as the temperatures drop and the rains increase, there are other signs, too, that those rustles in the hedgerow are cause for alarm. A scurrying sound at the back of the pantry, under the floorboards or behind the kitchen cupboards is a sure-fire sign that it’s time to stock up on traps.

    Chances are (hopefully) our home invaders are of the smaller rodent variety, but outside at that tracking station it’s another matter. There are plenty of pests, plenty of predators and plenty of pawprints for Sally to “read”.

    This week I wondered aloud to Mary Frankham whether she might like to have a few man-sized tracking stations set up around Waiheke so she could “read” what types of people she’s dealing with here.

    Mary was appointed project director for Te Korowai o Waiheke in February and is therefore custodian of the project to get the island predator-free by 2025. It’s already been nine months since Waiheke was chosen as one of five projects to receive multi-million dollar funding to achieve this grand goal and, as our story on page 17 of this edition of Gulf News shows, there’s plenty of enthusiasm among those volunteers who are already out there trapping voracious predators such as stoats.

    Mary’s a good operator. She’s quick to praise this enthusiasm and even quicker to talk about needing to align with groups who are already hard at work “on the ground”. She knows when to laugh off a daft suggestion about man-sized tracking cards and is fast to point to the fact that Te Korowai o Waiheke Trust was “established by an aligned group of the Waiheke community” who she’s there to serve.

    But I can’t help but think that there’s still plenty of work to do simply to bring together the huge number of smaller voluntary groups who are tracking, trapping and baiting around the island so that everyone is working together towards what’s a difficult but ultimately laudable goal.

    There’s possibly even more work to be done to bring on board the various groups of Waihekians who aren’t up to speed on the scheme: those who don’t like bait but would be fine with trapping; those who don’t live here week-in-week-out and are more interested in a regular rental income than a pest-free island; those who like the calls of kākā in their neighbours’ macrocarpa but don’t know how to go about killing the rats that prey on their eggs; and those who simply want to get shut of those rodents who nibble away at their vegetable garden or the neighbourhood stoat that worries their chooks.

    And then there are possibly those who don’t like the idea of killing any animals, regardless of their impact on native flora and fauna. Somehow, Mary will have to find a way to talk to them, too.

    Down on Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula, Mary tells me, their predator-free programme kicked off with a flagship project to get rid of all their possums. It was a straightforward scheme with achievable, quantifiable goals which helped the community grasp what “eradication” actually requires. From there they were able to move to other species of pests such as mustelids (stoats, weasels and the like) and rats.

    On Waiheke, thankfully, we’ve got a headstart because we don’t have those possums. Our flagship scheme is instead a stoat eradication project.

    And stoats are a good place to start – there’s a decent sized population into which we can make serious inroads, they don’t seem to repopulate from neighbouring islands or the mainland and they’re a vicious killer of some of our best-loved birds such as kākā, little blue penguins, grey-faced petrels, banded rail, bitterns and pateke.

    There’s going to be national and international interest in whether Waiheke can achieve our predator-free target. There will also be scrutiny over the methods we use to not only get rid of pests, but also bring together the community. It might just be that it’s the latter effort that will be the more important. • James Belfield

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