Posted by David Gledhill
All in the Family
Recently we heard an address from our President's father, today we heard from our Treasurer's son-in-law, Alaister Henshaw.   After his degree Alaister  was a primary school teacher for a number of years.  When he became a house husband he gained his M.A. in Education but then decided he preferred an outdoors job  and joined  Predator Free Wellington.  This was eminently suitable for a person who enjoyed 100km runs and had a passionate interest in conservation.  For four years Alaister has been the Community Officer for Predator Free Wellington.  He is proud of New Zealand's record in creating predator - free sanctuaries for our native wild life.  In other parts of New Zealand DOC has cleared several islands of predators, and Wellington is proud of founding Zealandia, the first "inland island".  (many years ago our club donated money for the first fence posts for it).  New Zealand is now leading the world in clearing both islands and mainland areas of predators to allow the native flora and fauna to flourish.
With the Wellington Regional Council, DOC and numerous volunteers Predator Free Wellington is working on clearing the whole of Wellington, the first ever attempt to clear a whole urban area without a fence.  Stage One is the Miramar peninsula, phase two will be Kilbirnie and Lyall Bay and eventually Stage 5 will be Wellington as far as Tawa.  The Miramar peninsular is relatively easy as the airport complex forms a natural barrier.  Even so the many challenges include landscape features like steep hills and wild bush and very occasionally uncooperative people, although most are very supportive.  The methods include trapping and poisoning but there are difficulties. Poisons and traps have to be specific and pose no threat to pets.  Clearing  a large area brings more problems.  Some pests move around but some do not.  It used to be believed that rats moved around but in fact some barely move more than 50 metres from their base and some even live predominantly in trees so coverage has to be complete.  Trapping is responsible for perhaps 10% of kills, the rest being poisoned.  Numerous trail cameras  and traps baited with mayonnaise are deployed to ensure an area is predator free.  Every pest killed is recorded with its details.  Predator Free Wellington believes that now the Miramar Peninsular is clear of stoats, weasels and Norway rats, and the emphasis is on removing the ship rats.  Since the start of the operation there has been a 51% increase in the number of native birds and major increases in the numbers of little blue penguins, wetas  and other native fauna.  Realistically some rats will find their way back and so there is a continuing need for volunteers, surveillance and clearing.  Phase 2 will be more challenging. The area is larger and contains far more people.  There will be a need for 1500 permissions to lay traps and poison on both pubic and private land and 60000 people will be affected.  In preparation for this phase PFW already has 200 volunteers prepared to work in seven trapping groups in five border areas.
In answering questions Alaister stated  that pet rats will be allowed but feral cats will be a problem and may have to be de-sexed or even eradicated.  Pet cats will also pose a problem and perhaps someday there will be legislation that domestic cats must be de-sexed and kept indoors or within a controlled area.  Pet dogs should not be a problem provided they are properly controlled, but medication is available if accidents occur.  Thank you Alaister for a most interesting talk on an ambitious project.