One thing people often say in discussions about Predator Free 2050 is that humans are the biggest pests. Well, I can’t disagree – we have made a mess of this planet, and of our country.
We have a duty to try and put it right, and to think about the consequences of our actions on the natural world. Seventy-one percent of birds in NZ are endemic (only found here), so if we let them be destroyed by introduced predators, they are gone forever. When visiting local schools, I find that our kids really get it – let’s help them to act.
Everything we do has an impact on nature, and often it is accidental or well meaning. The Acclimatisation Societies of the 1800s thought that they would fill NZ’s seemingly empty ‘Edens’ with “useful and harmless” possums. Today we are trying to remove them before they destroy the forests we have left.
“It’s not the possum’s fault, people brought them here!” I hear people say. I can’t argue with that either, but doing nothing is not an option when possums remove an estimated 21,000 tonnes of vegetation every night, plus any birds’ eggs, chicks and wētā they come across.
Healthy native forests have a vital role to play in mitigating climate change and extreme weather. They are much more effective carbon sinks than plantations or mown grass. However, if we don’t remedy our ancestors’ mistakes, forest health declines, with trees dying from possum and deer damage that actually begin to emit carbon as they rot. Forests with no understorey vegetation, because seeds have been eaten by rats, don’t soak up water as effectively or hold the soil in place.
Another disastrous consequence is the introduction of hedgehogs, which are protected in the UK and have predators in that ecosystem, which they don’t here. Some people rescue and release them, thinking they are harmless. Auckland Council prohibits this under the Regional Pest Management Plan. What people don’t consider are the consequences of releasing hedgehogs. They can travel great distances, munching hundreds of insects like wētā, and making a meal of the eggs of threatened shorebirds, as we saw last year with dotterels. This is changing however, and more people are learning how to remove hedgehogs humanely.
Our forests want to live, birds want to breed, and if we take the pressure off and control pests, nature will regenerate itself – we see it happening here on the Hibiscus Coast. In recent years, as pest control has increased through the Pest Free Hibiscus Coast project, bird counts show that 18 species of native birds are doing well, with some like tūī and riroriro showing significant increases.
Visit www.forestandbird.org.nz/projects/pest-free-hibiscus-coast to find out how you help by trapping in your backyard, or becoming a volunteer.