One Step Closer – Brent Beaven, PF2050

Brent Beaven —  20/05/2020

In the aftermath of the launch of the Predator Free 2050 strategy, in a world that looks very different than it did back in March, our Predator Free 2050 Manager talks about the strength of collective action and working towards big goals. This is the first blog in this PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

Predator Free 2050.
📷: Sabine Bernert

On 28 February, a traveller arrived at Auckland airport showing symptoms of COVID-19. A month later, the virus had claimed its first New Zealander and the country was in the first week of an unprecedented public health order: anyone not considered an essential worker was to remain at home. It was already being called a “lockdown.”

There were a few grumbles, but they were drowned out by something remarkable: that same day, a survey showed that 91 per cent of New Zealanders intended to comply with the order, which had the approval of 80 per cent of respondents. Sixty-two per cent said the experience would bring New Zealanders closer together, make us more trusting and supportive of one another.

Today, we can take huge heart from the evidence that they were right. People resolved to check on one another, to shop for those who could not. We got to know our neighbours better. We celebrated silence, and small things. We put teddy bears on the fence. We waved to perfect strangers, and they waved back.

Most New Zealanders had not been tested quite like this before, but we have shown resolve and solidarity in the past. In 2016, a national ambition was officially launched by then Prime Minister John Key –  Predator Free 2050.  It’s been the most uniting clarion call conservation has seen in its history within NZ. I am confident that the journey to get there and the outcomes it will create have the potential to shape the fabric of New Zealander’s identity, landscape, social cohesion and reputation as a nation bound together in achieving the impossible.

Brent Beaven holding a tīeke/Saddleback.
📷: Peta Carey

The announcement was a declaration of support for the thousands of New Zealanders who were already labouring to rescue our besieged native wildlife. But it was made, too, for many tens of thousands more, who didn’t yet know they were conservationists. Anyone watching what happened next could probably have guessed that New Zealanders would shine during the COVID crisis.

A rough estimate says that some 200,000 kiwis pull on a pair of boots of a weekend, and walk the trap lines, pull weeds, or plant trees. According to The Predator Free NZ Trust, there are 59 community groups in Wellington alone. An interactive map of the country run by the Trust, which shows the location and area of every known conservation project, reveals a mosaic of effort stretching from Te Rerenga Wairua — the very northernmost tip of the mainland — all the way to Rakiura. More than 1500 groups share their trapping results on a central database and no matter how small the community project may seem, the network effect of all our individual and community action is the backbone of the Predator Free vision.

Setting a stoat trap.
📷: Sabine Bernert

In pulling on those boots, everyday kiwis are turning a dream — New Zealand’s “moon shot”, as Sir Paul Callaghan called it — into a distinct possibility.

That June day, the establishment of Predator Free 2050 Limited, a Crown-owned, charitable company that provides co-funding for big eradication projects was also announced, and the science we’ll need to make them happen. The idea was that PF2050 Ltd would offer government funds, then invite private investors to match them 2 to 1. They have — with interest. Last financial year, PF2050 Ltd put up $23.2m, which attracted a total fighting fund of $89.7m for five landscape-scale projects in Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Waiheke, & Dunedin. The Government’s Provincial Growth Fund has put up a further $19.5m.

Meanwhile, DOC is the government agency responsible for making Predator Free 2050 happen: to harness that national will, and to support and guide it.

In March this year, we released a strategy and an action plan that plots a course along a series of way points all the way to 2050, and the eradication of possums, stoats and rats. It acknowledges the magnitude of the step-change we’ll need to make, from decades of defending a line — pest control — to a national counter-offensive — eradication.

The strategy is very clear: the job is too big, too complex, for anyone to do alone. It will need the effort of everyone.

Woven into the fabric of this strategy are our Treaty Partners, essential to the Predator Free kaupapa. While Predator Free is about driving new innovation and learning new skills, it relies on looking back to old ones too and the centuries and customary values of mātauranga which will be fundamental to our governance, strategy and operations. The strategy also offers pathways and principles woven together to make the social and cultural outcomes of this goal as important as the environmental. It sets out the Department’s roles and responsibilities, along with those of the groups crucial to success: iwi and hapu; communities; landowners; the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, as a research and innovation leader as well as central and local government players who have important roles and responsibilities of this mahi.

Beneath the PF2050 strategy is a five-year action plan that sights the objectives we can achieve before 2025. For instance, it calls for the eradication of rats, stoats and possums from at least 20,000 hectares of the mainland — and for them to be kept out for good. That’s a goal with an excellent chance of success, as Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) prepares to extend its successful clearance of the Perth Valley, some 10,000 hectares alone, into surrounding habitat.

Pest control in the Haast Range.
📷: Kerry Weston

Among communities across the country, The Predator Free New Zealand Trust, a private charity, is supporting NGOs, schools, marae, farmers and ordinary citizens with advice, resources, publicity and connections.

From the declaration of an ambition, a picture is building, much like a jigsaw would take form, of myriad different groups and sectors, each taking up Sir Paul Callaghan’s challenge. Of those pieces of jigsaw drawing ever closer together as projects and passions connect. Of predators being pushed back, trap line by trap line, working bee by working bee, towards a complete picture.

Turning to face a deadly virus, New Zealanders discovered the strength of collective action. They know that mutual support and resolve exerts a force many times greater than the sum of its parts. If a nation of like minds can overcome a threat like COVID-19, it becomes clear that, if we want it badly enough, we can free our native taonga from the tyranny of pestilence, too.

Brent Beaven holding a tīeke/Saddleback 2.
📷: Peta Carey

The news announced by Minister Eugenie Sage on budget day about the significant investment in the PF2050 programme as a key re-building block of the NZ economy, is very exciting.  This builds on the significant investment by this government through Budget 18

One response to One Step Closer – Brent Beaven, PF2050

    Pamela Pope 20/05/2020 at 1:36 pm

    Thank goodness for all the dedicated people out there in the field. We appreciate that this job can be pretty tough work at times but desperately needs to be done. Many thanks Pam