On the heels of last week’s major Predator Free New Zealand announcement, ranger Don Herron shares the story of a community-run initiative which has been working to make their suburb pest free.
Plimmerton is the first Porirua suburb to aim for pest free status. ‘Pest Free Plimmerton’ is the brainchild of three dedicated locals: Lee McLauchlan, Linda Kerkmeester and Heather Evans.
The seed was planted for Pest Free Plimmerton early in 2016 when Lee saw a weasel running across her street. Inspired by Kelvin Hastie’s success in Crofton Downs, and having caught a number of rats in her ceiling space, she was motivated to tackle the problem and get her local community on board.
Lee teamed up with a couple of friends with similar dreams of a pest free suburb. Heather had seen rats running along her back fence and a couple of residents had seen weasels running across roads. Linda was already checking traps along the foreshore for Greater Wellington Regional Council and was involved in the eco-restoration of Mana Island, so had seen first-hand the benefits to local wildlife where pests have been eradicated.
The project has three simple goals:
• Rid Plimmerton and surrounding forest of mammalian predators
• Get the community involved in long-term trapping
• Increase bird and lizard numbers.
And most importantly:
• Keep it simple!
Pest Free Plimmerton worked with DOC from the start. DOC provided 88 traps and the project was launched to the community on May 7 at the local kindergarten. Over 100 residents turned up and all traps were allocated.
At first the programme planned to give away traps to keen residents but after people indicated they would be happy to pay, Pest Free Plimmerton decided to ask for trap ‘sponsorship’. This allowed them to buy more traps and became the linchpin to the self-funding model they now have established, thus financing more traps and widening the reach of the trapping network.
Pest Free Plimmerton now have 150 traps in the wider community and plans for a further 50. DOC has supplied ten DOC 150 traps to target mustelids and hedgehogs.
The programme has no committee as such, with the aim to concentrate on getting as many traps out in the community as possible.
“We didn’t want to be bogged down with the paper work, meetings and minutes,” says Lee.
The group consulted Kelvin Hastie on the best way for Plimmerton to become pest-free. Kelvin was the driving force in New Zealand’s first pest-free suburb, Wellington’s Crofton Downs. The key to Crofton Downs’ success was getting residents involved and taking ownership of the project.
Heather explains the thinking for Pest Free Plimmerton is similar.
“When the community is involved they feel that they are making a difference. We set the framework for this to be successful.”
Pest Free Plimmerton also noticed once the word got out, more residents wanted to be part of the project and get traps in their backyards. Traps can be picked up from Heather’s porch along with instructions on placement and best lure options.
It has been a great learning curve for all involved. Trap location is important. Ship rats are great climbers so traps can be set along walls or fences near the bush, however Norway rats are bigger and tend to stick to the ground
Pest Free Plimmerton has an active social media presence and monthly newsletter. All residents notify by email what they have caught. This is added to a spreadsheet and the results are shared with the community. Residents are encouraged to post comments and pictures and share advice on the Pest Free Plimmerton Facebook page. The results so far have exceeded all expectations. In the first two months over 150 rats have been caught.
An aerial map of Plimmerton, created by Kelvin Hastie, is used to represent the density of traps. This is a great visual tool for all those involved and identifies places where traps are needed. Linda and Heather have been door knocking to help fill the gaps in the network. Nine times out of ten, the resident is happy to have a trap. In one instance, a resident was most upset as he hadn’t caught anything for a number of days!
The group plans to place five Goodnature A24 self setting traps in ‘hot spots’. These are areas which may have a greater density of pests and the self-setting traps mean less work checking and rebaiting. However, the tunnel traps are proving effective for residential trapping providing they are checked regularly. They provide very visible results which is often not the case with A24s, where kills may be predated by other animals before they can be counted.
They have a plan to involve local schools and DOC has contributed some resources to get this started. It’s hoped this will encourage kids to get on board with raising awareness, getting students active in monitoring, checking traps and notifying what has been caught. Local businesses are also on board and checking their own traps.
The end game for Plimmerton? “To be pest free within a year and have a noticeable increase in birds and lizards” says Linda. With the results so far this will be reached sooner rather than later.