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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

We need to eradicate rats, possums and stoats from Aotearoa by 2050. It will take hard work, money, research, collaboration and commitment across generations of Kiwis. Today, we’re diving into the most exciting bit: innovation. This is the third blog in this PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

📷: Peta Carey; Brent Beaven and Saddleback/tīeke

Being predator-free means eradicating every last stoat, rat and possum in the country.

That’s a tall order, and it wasn’t immediately clear how we might do it.

But following the announcement of Predator Free 2050 in 2016, Kiwi innovators got straight to work, supported by investment from both the public and private sectors. The ambitious target of PF2050 has already galvanised the innovation community, stimulating research, investment and effort to greater heights.

In less than a decade, pest control has entered a whole new era of cost-effective efficiency and accuracy.

While the hurdles to the ultimate goal might seem high to us right now, the huge technological advances that have already been made confirm that they lower with every breakthrough.

So, what’s the plan?

We, DOC, are leading the programme that currently involves 26 national entities, and all are guided by the PF2050 Strategy, which sets out the interim goals that will get us to the ultimate objective. All over the country, designers and engineers are developing new tools that will help meet those milestones.

There are two key technical challenges facing us – how to scale up the size of the areas we can eradicate; and how to defend these sites from reinvading predators.

Consider this in the context of the country’s difficult topography, and the sheer cost, which means it cannot all be done by manual labour.

Our pest control tools, then, must become smarter, safer and more cost-effective.

Our Tools to Market programme directs $1.4m of investment every year into devices that will do just that, and more. The funding supports the full gamut of steps from proof of concept, through research and development, to prototype testing at a landscape scale. Once proven, they will be available to everyone involved in Predator Free 2050.

It’s a complex issue

Eradicating predators is an order of magnitude harder than simply keeping their numbers down, because you need to get every single individual.  The ability to do this on the mainland, at a large scale, and then defend those areas from reinvasion is a key focus for us.

Both jobs demand smart, autonomous devices, and Tools to Market is funding just such a thing. Print Acquisition for Wildlife Surveillance — or PAWS — is a quest for a low-cost sensing device that automatically identifies a range of predator species. It will work a little like a desktop scanner: when an animal steps onto a pad, sensors capture the outline of its pawprint, then compare it to reference profiles in the device’s own memory. If it comes up with a match to a target species, the device will automatically alert wildlife managers.

The project is jointly led by Lincoln Agritech Ltd, Boffa Miskell and Red Fern Solutions. PAWS will help us know when we’ve reached certain interim Predator Free 2050 goals, such as eradicating all mammalian predators from New Zealand’s offshore islands.

On another detection technology pathway, ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) recently unveiled an Artificial Intelligence camera. Atop an A-frame, beneath a kea-proof steel cover, is a thermal camera, aimed at the ground, where ZIP’s own ‘Moto-lure’ automatic dispenser leaves a daub of fresh food lure each day.

A sensor trips the camera each time something comes within view. On-board AI software then runs an algorithm that compares the animal’s size and shape against reference profiles in the camera’s memory and confirms an ID. If it turns out to be a rat, stoat or possum, the device sends an alert through ZIP’s radio network to a ranger’s phone.

Clearly, all cameras, sensor pads and traps need an effective long-lasting, attractive lure, and that’s been the focus of Wellington UniVentures, the commercial arm of Victoria University. Some food lures work well with rats, but they don’t keep well in the backcountry.

Dr Michael Jackson and colleagues have developed instead an encapsulated rat lure based on chemical compounds. A device broadcasts those compounds a little at a time, so that one capsule might last six months or more, dramatically reducing the time and cost of replenishment.

At the end of the day

The second key challenge for PF2050, is changing the scale to “much larger”.  Our largest New Zealand eradication to date has been Campbell Island, which is approximately 30,000ha.  We need to get much bigger than this, and this challenge demands new tools and techniques.

For instance, stoats are presently controlled either directly by trapping — at huge labour cost — or indirectly during 1080 operations.  We need a more targeted, stoat-specific toxin, which is why Tools to Market is funding the development of para-aminopropiophenone, or PAPP, for short.

PAPP, injected into fresh mince, is already used in ground control, but to meet the scale of PF2050’s goals, it must ideally be spread from the air. So, researchers are working on an encapsulated bait that will both survive being dropped from the air and remain fresh.

Any eradication will rely heavily on accurate, targeted applications of toxins, often in difficult terrain, or in remote locations such as offshore islands. Supported by a $790,000-investment from Tools to Market, Kiwi startup Environment & Conservation Technologies Ltd (ECT) are testing a new, lightweight bait spreader that could be used under a heavy-lift drone. That testing will use non-toxic baits to determine whether such a device could deliver the required target bait density safely and at reasonable cost.

In the backcountry of the future, a PAWS or Artificial Intelligence device might send an alert directly to an autonomous drone, then­ guide it straight to the site of an incursion.

Tools to Market is, in effect, investing in ingenuity and imagination, and with each problem those talents solve, we take another step closer to being predator-free by 2050.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds in the innovation space. Watch this space, we’ll keep you updated.

Ngā mihi

Brent Beaven


📷: PF2050

For more about the PF2050 strategy, including a run through of the tools that are going to get us there, visit https://www.doc.govt.nz/moving-towards-pf2050

The goal is to eradicate rats, possums and stoats from Aotearoa by 2050. It will take a lot of hard work, money, research, collaboration and commitment across generations of Kiwis. So why is it necessary? This is the second blog in this PF2050 series.

By Brent Beaven, Programme Manager Predator Free 2050

Brent and a tīeke (saddleback) 📷: Peta Carey

Aotearoa has some of the most ancient and unique wildlife on Earth. Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Jared Diamond once wrote that our biota was “as close as we will get to the opportunity to study life on another planet.”

Eighty-five million years ago, mammals hadn’t yet spread to the southern reaches of Gondwana, so that when Zealandia split from the ancient supercontinent, they missed the boat.

The passengers were instead birds, plants, insects and reptiles. That’s why our only native mammals are those that could either fly here (bats) or swim here (seals).

Long-tailed bat, our tiny native land mammal 📷: Colin O’Donnell DOC

With four-legged mammals missing, birds evolved to fill the vacuum. Kōkako climbed like squirrels, while kiwi hunted invertebrates in the leaf litter by smell, much as a hedgehog might. The only predators were other birds: the huge pouākai (Haast’s eagle) which was a moa-killer, Eyles’ harrier, and the whēkau (laughing owl). These raptors hunted by keen eyesight, so their prey evolved cryptic camouflage — the mossy green mosaic of the kākāpō, the blue-grey “wet rock” look of the whio — and they learned to keep perfectly still when predators were about.

Whio on a log, 📷: Sabine Bernert

Evolution is driven by danger or need, and without much of either, Zealandia’s creatures were loath to change. That’s why our fauna is famous for its ‘ancient’ species: the tuatara, a relic from 200 million years ago; our native frogs, all but unaltered in 70 million years. Noted Australian palaeontologist, Tim Flannery, called it “a completely different experiment in evolution to the rest of the world.”

Crucially, catastrophically, it’s also well-known for being rather smelly.

Unlike their counterparts overseas, many of our birds, our snails, our lizards — even our wētā — give off a perfume so strong and distinctive that sniffer dogs can be trained to specialise in tracking these various creatures.

Kākāpō chick. Kākāpō are known for their sweet scent 📷: Jayne Ramage DOC

Eight hundred years ago, Zealandia became Aotearoa when the great waka arrived. Aboard, there were kurī (dogs) and kiore (rats), and their sharp sense of smell led them straight to native wildlife, which obligingly stayed rooted to the spot.

Four hundred years later, the Europeans brought a whole other bestiary of keen-nosed predators — more rats (most disastrously, the ship rat, an agile tree climber), mice, possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, hedgehogs, cats and pigs.

Meanwhile, the forests and wetlands continued to vanish before the flint and the axe, so that within 750 years of human arrival, half of New Zealand’s vertebrate fauna had disappeared.

At least 45 bird species went extinct.

Stoat with chick, 📷: David Hallet

Plus three frogs, three lizards, a bat, a freshwater fish and as many as nine plant species are gone forever. We will never know how many invertebrates we’ve lost. Aotearoa was ground zero for one of the worst extinction episodes in modern history. Haast’s magnificent eagle, Eyles’ harrier, and the laughing owl are all gone, along with many of the creatures they called food.

Sadly, that’s not just natural history. Today, some 4000 native species are still at some kind of risk – one of the highest proportions in the world. Around a quarter of them are in real danger of extinction. Almost 160 are getting management at only one site, which means those populations could be lost to a single disaster. There are many causes: loss of habitat or preferred food; competition from exotic species; pollution; even climate change, but overwhelmingly the problem continues to be those sharp-nosed introduced predators.

Without pest control, 95 per cent of young kiwi don’t make it to their first birthday.

If we were to let them, introduced predators — mainly stoats — would carve 2.5 per cent off Northland kiwi populations every single year. To extrapolate that rate of loss across all kiwi species around the country is to conclude that, without our help, they could be extinct in the mainland wild within two human generations.

Kiwi and DOC ranger, 📷: Sabine Bernert

Every night, dozens of other native species are plundered. In 2009, Landcare Research ecologist John Innes calculated that possums, stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats, mice, hedgehogs, cats and pigs kill more than 25 million native birds each year.

The wonder of those numbers is that our native species have even hung on this long, and that’s in part thanks to many decades of effort by conservation and pest control workers and volunteers.

Historically, the battle against predators has tried to defend a line, using traps, bait stations and aerial poisoning to blunt the worst of their destruction. It has always been about buying our wildlife a bit of breathing space to recover their numbers.

Aerial control, 📷: DOC

The Predator Free proposition is a step change from piecemeal control, to coordinated, progressive nationwide eradication. At present, we spend tens of millions of dollars every year on the treadmill of temporary control — a gambit with no end.

The Predator Free 2050 strategy is about funding innovation, testing and implementation to put an end to the ravages of rats, stoats and possums once and for all. Rather than endlessly meeting maintenance costs, PF2050 is about up-front investment in an enduring solution, leaving much lower “tail costs”.

Importantly, it literally pushes out the boundaries of predator control, swapping intermittent, localised operations for a sustained push towards eradication across entire landscapes, both forests and farmland, and in our cities.

Best of all, our biodiversity can thrive again, free from the depredations of the three most destructive pests to have reached our shores. Aotearoa holds one of the most unenvied extinction records of any nation and PF2050 offers us the chance of a new reputation, as the first in the world to take a stand for our taonga.


Find out more about our work controlling predators, plus a practical guide to trapping and information about the latest predator control innovation, head to our website: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/predator-free-2050/


#OneStepCloserPF2050 📷: Sabine Bernert