Strength in Numbers
Thanks to our foundation partners, volunteers, trapping communities, residents and staff for making it all possible.
Kia ora koutou
At Predator Free Wellington we live and die by the data – it informs all of our decision making. Theme for this year’s report - Strength in Numbers - represents an opportunity to tell our story through data, to demonstrate what it takes to get to zero predators and keep it there, and the sheer scale of ecological rejuvenation we are experiencing and what it means to the people of this city.
Strength in Numbers enables us to illustrate how all of the individual strands of commitment, participation and effort join together to generate profound impact for our communities and our native species. It demonstrates the level of detail involved in this journey on multiple levels, and just how difficult it is to deliver an elimination of multiple introduced predator species in a capital city – something that has never been done before.
We are committed. It is now taking over 30 days to find a single ship rat on the Miramar Peninsula – over 240 hours of field work - and this doesn’t include the many hours of planning, data analysis and surveillance to support the work!
Strength in Numbers isn’t just about facts and figures, it also provides important insights into the connections between the tens of thousands of Wellingtonians participating in the fight for our precious native species. It shows that there is a role for everyone, in the one story, that represents our citywide evolution to a place where our native species are strong, and connected communities thrive. After all, that is why we do what we do, it isn’t good enough to sit on the sidelines accepting the continual degradation of our natural world and the disappearance of our quirky, charismatic and unique native species.
Thanks to the efforts of many – many people giving time, expertise and heart to the mission in a multitude of different ways – we now live in one of the few places in the world where native species are actually increasing. That is not normal in the world we live in. It is a small but incredible message of hope that demonstrates what can be achieved when enough people commit to doing something together.
In the past year we have been incredibly humbled by ever-increasing interest from overseas in what us kiwis are doing to restore native species - the world is taking note.
The numbers around species recovery are incredible, the accounts of what this all actually means to people are profound, the relationships being formed through collaboration are leading to greater community connectivity and resilience, but don’t just take my word for it.
Enjoy the read!
— James Willcocks, Project Director
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini
Our strength does not come from ourselves alone, our strength derives from the many
Camera images processed
Field team hours
Bait station checks
Predator Free Wellington isn’t just on a mission to make Wellington the world’s first predator free capital city - we also want to make people’s lives better.
Our eradication work on the Miramar Peninsula has enabled involvement from residents across the community that represent a diverse range of backgrounds.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Community participation in ecological projects, such as predator eradication, tends to be uneven across different sectors of society and is predominantly from white ethnic groups, highly educated, affluent and middle aged or older (Hart et al., 2022). In Wellington, Dr Danielle Shanahan demonstrated that participation in ecological projects was associated with economic advantage (Shanahan, 2020).
In July 2022, Dr Julie Whitburn and Dr Danielle Shanahan presented our efforts on the Miramar Peninsula as an exemplar of a collective, landscape-scale predator eradication project, a project that amplifies the work of community-led initiatives already operating on the Peninsula (read full report here).
As an eradication effort, no neighbourhood on the peninsula could be overlooked to achieve success and this has likely driven a more equitable approach to community participation in the project and greater equity in ecological or social outcomes.
The researchers were able to explore whether equity existed in this dimension of the project on Miramar Peninsula by examining the relationship between neighbourhood advantage, tree canopy cover (demonstrating existing ecological inequity) and landholders’ participation in the project.
They found our Miramar Peninsula eradication achieved equitable deployment of traps and bait stations across the landscape, irrespective of the socio-economic context or the amount of tree canopy cover in neighbourhoods. This is an uncommon occurrence with social imbalances in environmental outcomes common globally (Hart et al., 2022).
The researchers noted our targeted strategy to engage community environmental groups as collaborative partners and a tailored engagement strategy to recruit landholders’ participation within each community, were key features that helped facilitate these equitable outcomes. Additionally, these approaches may ultimately lead to equitable improvements in biodiversity over time.
Why does equity in conservation matter?
Equitable participation in our project means that the ecological and wellbeing benefits, such as rat free homes or increased wildlife, and potential benefits of participating, such as improvements to people’s psychological and social wellbeing, are not limited to particular sectors of society.
It is hoped that the learnings from this research will have long-term implications for improving large-scale community engagement in ecological restoration projects locally, nationally and internationally. The strategies used to interweave technical expertise and community engagement could be applied to other ‘wicked’ problems that require a systems approach, such as developing a regional response to address aspects of climate change which could culminate in community-wide behaviour change.
Acknowledgment: Dr Julie Whitburn’s research was funded by the Bioheritage National Science Challenge and Predator Free Wellington Ltd.
If you think you’ve been hearing more beautiful birdsong in Wellington recently, your ears aren’t lying.
Latest figures show that observations of native birds have increased by 51% on the Miramar Peninsula since the project launched. This includes a rise in detections of the pīwakawaka (NZ Fantail) population of a whopping 550%, a 275% increase in riroriro (grey warblers), and a 49% increase in tūi.
These results are a real credit to the hard mahi that’s being done, not just by us, but also by volunteer groups, such as Predator Free Miramar, Te Motu Kairangi-Miramar Ecological Restoration group, Forest and Bird - Places for Penguins, as well as all the volunteer trapping groups throughout the wider Wellington city.
Everyone is pitching in and it’s so satisfying to see more and more native birds on the peninsula and in our city.
What can we expect to see in the future?
We spoke to Victoria University of Wellington researchers Dr Stephen Hartley and Dr Nyree Fea to get their views on the bird results and also to understand what we can hope to see in the future.
Dr Hartley shared with us that the riroriro and pīwakawaka are faster breeding than tūi and this could explain why they are showing a more rapid response to the Miramar Peninsula eradication. In a few more years he suspects the highly competitive tūī will continue to increase in numbers and the pīwakawaka and riroriro populations may stabilise, as they have done in Zealandia, see Miskelley 2018.
He also said he would like to see kākāriki and kākā increase their presence on the peninsula, but at the moment there may not be sufficient mature forest to support them in any great numbers. Nonetheless, kākā are very mobile and have proven they can adapt to urban and suburban environments in other areas of Wellington.
Should we expect change in bird behaviour with low rat numbers?
Dr Nyree Fea mentioned that the pīwakawaka is a relatively recent arrival to New Zealand, probably having arrived from Australia or the South Pacific. Their not-so-distant fantail relatives evolved with mammalian predators and New Zealand’s pīwakawaka also appears to have behaviours that protect them from rats.
She said it’s possible that with the low rat numbers we are experiencing on the peninsula, the pīwakawaka might now be feeling bolder. This could mean they feel safer to move around more and also feel more freedom to sing. She also said this extra boldness may have influenced our bird count results with bolder birds being easier to hear or spot in 5 minute bird counts.
Previous research into how our native wildlife responds to predator control has mostly been carried out in forests and sanctuaries, and more work needs to be done to understand ecological impact of urban eradications, such as on the Miramar Peninsula. “The impact of climate change and warmer winters might also need to be considered further to better understand the ecological outcomes, as pīwakawaka/fantail survival, for example, is believed to be higher when winters are milder,” Dr Fea said.
Increase in pīwakwaka
Pīwakawaka (NZ fantails) are the fourth most widespread native terrestrial bird species on the Miramar Peninsula and were recorded at 23 (27%) of the 84 count stations and were reported on 318 occasions by citizen scientists since 2017.
Increase in riroriro
Riroriro (grey warblers) are the third most widespread native terrestrial bird species on the Miramar Peninsula and were recorded at 29 (35%) of the 84 bird count stations, and were reported on 335 occasions by citizen scientists since 2017.
Last year we successfully eradicated Norway rats and weasels from the Miramar Peninsula, but the removal of these target species is just one part of the equation. Protecting areas against reinvasion is just as important because the threat is constant.
On the Miramar Peninsula we do this through a number of different approaches, but our virtual barrier system on the Rongotai Isthmus (made up of 354 traps and 363 bait stations) is our frontline defence against reinvasion of target animals. Here is how it performed over the year to protect Miramar locals….
The tricky thing with a multi species eradication project is developing methods that will get the job done for all of the individual target species. We’ve written the eradication recipe for Norway rats, stoats and weasels in the urban context, but ship rats have proven harder to sink. To crack this code we focussed on one area of very challenging terrain.
Oruaiti Reserve, off the south coast of Seatoun, was selected as our chosen ‘test’ area. It is 25 hectares of vegetation which borders mainly onto houses and coastline. The only areas where reinvasion could easily occur, were from small sections from the north and west which makes the area easily defendable. This area was also chosen as it presented some of the most inaccessible terrain we have had to deal with and perfect rat habitat - if we could do it here, we could do it anywhere.
Over 8 months we held the initial grid of 50m x 50m to see if we could achieve eradication in this habitat rich environment. During this time our monitoring tools told us we were very close to eradicating ship rats with no chew card detections, trap catch or bait take data, but the inclusion of cameras told us a different story - there was still a lot of rat activity around, and they weren’t interacting with our existing bait stations.
We decided to deploy one new approach at a time to see if there were single interventions we could make to the network that might provide the ‘silver bullet’ approach for urban eradications and ultimately help future eradications be more efficient.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the result we wanted using this methodology and realised the area was posing a threat to the surrounding areas, notably Beacon Hill. Working with our partners at ZIP (Zero Invasive Predators) we developed a new set of tactics and launched a blitz named ‘Operation Liquidation’. The area has been our operational focus for 2022, in just 8 months we went from 2,354 rat pictures to zero rat pictures - and with ongoing monitoring we are very close to declaring the Oruaiti Reserve area successfully eradicated.
In August 2022, Predator Free Miramar celebrated its fifth birthday. James Willcocks, our Project Director caught up with Dan Henry, Predator Free Miramar Lead to reflect on the last five years and the impact Dan and the volunteers have made over that time.
Firstly, an intro from James:
When I started on this Predator Free Wellington journey it was blindingly obvious that the only way we had any chance of reaching our goals would be through the development of deep partnership with the community of volunteers already doing great ecological restoration work on Miramar.
Volunteers are critical to the mission - they were doing this work long before we even started and will be there long after we’ve finished our piece. Acknowledging this criticality is one thing, but actually seeing the passion, innovation, drive and determination that people bring to bear continually amazes me.
I first met Dan when I was about three weeks into my new job as the Project Director for Predator Free Wellington Ltd. Those early conversations quickly evolved into a great personal mateship but also into an incredibly effective working relationship delivering incredible results. Predator Free Wellington simply could not launch an eradication on Miramar without the Predator Free Miramar crew and it is only right to shine a light on their achievements. I hope you enjoy this kōrero with Dan….
Dan, why did you decide to start Predator Free Miramar? I was already hooked on trapping, having trapped in Polhill Reserve and was also running the trapping for Te Motu Kairangi. When I heard about the launch of the Predator Free 2050 vision, along with the success Predator Free Crofton Downs was having, I thought we’ve got to do this on Miramar! I saw the opportunity and there was no way I was going to be sitting on the sidelines.
What did you want to achieve? I was driven by the current wisdom of the time, which recommended one trap for every five households. Doing the sums, with around 7,500 households in Miramar, that meant 1,500 traps was the goal. The launch was a good way to make it real - I gave away 80 traps, which was 120 traps less than I had hoped, but in the following weeks excitement started to really grow as word of mouth spread. Emails were flying in from willing trap recipients. We received a very timely grant from the Nikau Foundation which allowed us to purchase another 800 victor traps and start systemising our processes to keep up with demands.
What were some of the key elements in those early days? Building relationships has been critical, not just with residents, but local businesses have been fully supportive of our kaupapa: local café The Larder became a place for locals to collect peanut butter bait for their traps while grabbing a flat white. Placemakers Kilbirnie gave us massive discounts on timber for building tunnels, and our mates at Double Vision Brewing invited us to collaborate on a charity brew with proceeds going back into the mahi. Not to mention Fix and Fogg peanut butter crafters who still keep Wellington trappers stocked with bait to this day!
In terms of getting the word out, the Predator Free Miramar Facebook group has been our main tool and continues to grow.
I would also look at maps to identify the areas with gaps in coverage and would do letterbox drops. In-person events, such as garden centre stalls, school fairs, and presentations were also a great way to meet with people in person. Initially, people were a bit standoffish until we spray painted a big sign saying ‘Free Traps’ - they thought they were going to have to pay for something. The challenge then was ensuring people knew how to bait them and set them, so we set up a website with some how-to videos.
In the earlier days, the momentum was intense and I was doing drop offs to new households the whole time - 10 traps in the car every morning for random scenic routes around the peninsula to deliver them on the way home. I was also using relationships to get traps into areas where there were none. This was the evolution from backyards to green spaces. Why do one and not the other? So we got in touch with the government department managing the 80+ hectares of farmland and bush north of the prison, and gained permission to install traplines in this untrapped area. Two hundred additional traps that yielded a whole lot more rats!
We have trapped 5,500 rats and had over 1,400 traps at our peak.
What are you most proud of? What has given me the most pleasure is the individual connections with so many people from Miramar; random Miramartians whose doors I knocked on, and who gave me their time. I’m proud that it has made such a massive difference to the birds and habitat of Miramar. I’m most proud of how it’s turned the people on to the natural environment, and the messages received from people with their observations: someone’s spotted a possum or some dumped bread on the roadside, or someone’s spotted their first kotare or pīwakawaka in their garden and wants to share that.
During the seven week Covid lockdown the amount of people that stopped me on our sanctioned isolation walks to comment on the birds was epic.
Biggest impact? The positive outcome is opening people’s eyes and ears to their relationship with the natural environment - a lot of people picking up a trap actually never made the connection to the ecological outcomes - we are taking it to the masses!
But it’s been the hard work of so many people. So many local heroes. Fiona Austin has had six traps since 2018. She caught 138 rats in the first two years then it took her another two and half years of patiently waiting to catch number 139! She’d been quietly re-baiting her traps all of this time.
How has the group evolved? Backyard trapping is still going, but it’s also evolved into the counterinsurgency volunteer efforts who work alongside the Predator Free Wellington field team. We pulled both groups together during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as we were able to capitalise having locals on the ground who could easily hook into the eradication operations. It has a built in fluidity but we have the hardcore band out every weekend. On Sundays at 8.30am we go trapping, no-one is compelled to be there. It’s a flying squad sort of thing - we go where the work needs to happen.
What’s next? Finishing the job - driving that downward trending line into the ground, catching the last rat first and then we will worry about what’s next!
You’ve given a lot personally to this, why? I’ve never thought about giving up, I’ve definitely had moments of frustration like doing four weeks of checks in an area with no rats and going back for one final check in week five and finding a fresh rat and thinking where the hell did that come from?! We are still learning so much and none of us are keen to stop now.
‘Volunteer burnout’ is a term I hear thrown about, but I don’t like that phrase, as it implies there is some sort of failure on the volunteer’s part. We all get busy with family and work and other demands. People give what they can, they come and go, and we’ve found there will always be someone new ready to step up and help when needed. We try and keep things fluid and low pressure, as I think that is really important. It is the human connections we’ve made along the way on this project that will ultimately stay with me.
Why do you turn up every weekend? There is still immense enjoyment for me in doing it, there is still work to be done. I’ve said so many times to so many people that it is achievable and so many people have given so much that I feel a responsibility to steer the ship home. New people coming in keeps it fresh - people bringing their energy is revitalising. And all the amazing outcomes we’re seeing every time we’re out in the ngahere: seeing kārearea hunting overhead, being surrounded by riroriro on a trap line and hearing ruru at night. It’s awesome.
Along with our focus on the Phase 1 eradication on the Miramar Peninsula, we are also preparing for the Phase 2 eradication.
This second phase stretches from Kilbirnie around to Ōwhiro Bay and up through to the CBD. It is an area that is home to approximately 60,000 people. Before we start installing the devices on the ground we need 7,500 households to get on board - as a minimum!
Our team of three Community Outreach Officers have been working in the Phase 2 project area raising awareness about the project, chatting with community groups and doorknocking residents to secure permissions for the required eradication grid of 10,000+ devices.
We have had 6,431 device permissions received from residents and businesses. And a further 1,053 permissions received from Wellington City Council for devices in bush reserves.
The majority of remaining permissions needed are for the Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay areas, as our team are yet to doorknock in this area. We also have another 1,570 points we’re we are still in discussions with phase 2 residents, or we are waiting for them to get back to us to confirm the approval.
How do we protect an eradicated area from reinvasion without a pest proof fence or being surrounded by water?
The logical approach to creating a predator free Aotearoa by 2050 is to eradicate small pockets and expand them out. This is the approach we are taking with Wellington - working over five phases and areas as we step out from Miramar Peninsula.
One of the biggest challenges to this approach is how to prevent reinvasion to these areas without predator proof fences. Making the whole country a predator free zone will require thinking beyond fences.
Miramar peninsula enabled us to test almost all the scenarios for eradicating predators in an urban area - schools, coast, bush, businesses, and a range of different residential areas. But there we had the luxury of an airport runway across a narrow isthmus to act as a barrier to reinvasion, and the complexities of a fenceless barrier was one aspect that didn’t get put to the full test.
For phase two the eradication zone has an outer barrier that is 7 kms long and 300 metres wide, running through a green belt between urban areas and making up several suburbs and Council reserves. These areas include green spaces such as Tawatawa Reserve, Manawa Karioi, Paekawakawa, Mornington Golf Course, Prince of Wales Park and Ōwhiro Bay. In total, when every device is installed, it will contain 177 traps and 713 bait stations.
We knew the key to success would be strength in numbers, and so we instigated a volunteer led buffer eradication project. We brought together the various community groups already doing volunteer restoration work in the reserve spaces. Each month volunteer training sessions are held where they are taught about installing bait stations, baiting and trapping. Each area has a coordinator/s and a group of trained volunteers who are going out on weekends installing bait stations, and once all are installed they will bait and check regularly. They also input data into Trap.NZ which can be seen by our field team, and each group is supported by a Predator Free Wellington team member - going out with them on weekends and providing the tools they need.
To date 85 people have gone through the training, and groups are active throughout nearly all the buffer area. Their mahi is setting us up for success in the second phase of the eradication project and it wouldn’t be possible without such passion and dedication and hard work. In the last 12 months, they have installed 292 bait stations throughout the area which is an amazing success.
In the Tawatawa and Paekawakawa reserves the dedicated team have installed all of their devices and have begun baiting and have had 30 devices which have had rodent interaction.
Community groups are active in these areas already and have already established trap lines, hold regular planting days and have setup monitoring lines.
There is no doubt this year has been tough for many of us, as we’ve navigated the pandemic and all the extra noise and uncertainty that has come with it.
To help raise awareness of our phase 2 project, and also bring some surprise and joy to the people of Wellington, our community engagement team initiated a guerilla marketing campaign, calling for temporary artworks across the city using the theme #RATSvWELLINGTON.
Our first art installation was by Tape Art New Zealand in Island Bay, Struan and Erica created the work proclaiming “Toodle-oo!” to the Last rats in Wellington.
In the Wellington suburb of Hataitai, a group of residents have turned their local MenzShed into a trap-building hub – hoping to build community and traps simultaneously.
Led by locals Floyd and Chris, rat trapping tunnels have proven to be a perfect project, they’re simple and quick to put together, and can be finished in just one session.
“Hataitai is part of phase two for Predator Free Wellington,” Chris says. “So, it makes sense to use the resources we’ve got – like the Shed – to contribute to that.”
Chris is a keen trapper and has caught more than 1,000 rodents since he started his own trap line a few years ago. “People are pretty keen to do good work. We just need to get a few more rat boxes out and to remind people to rebait their traps every three weeks,” Chris says.
They put together some trap boxes to give away at the Hataitai Village Market, which runs out of the Centre on the first Saturday of the month. Market day was a great chance to run a membership drive for the Shed and promote trap-building.
“It’s early days,” says Floyd. “But we’ve had quite a bit of interest from the community already.”
The MenzShed organisation knows that men’s mental and physical health is often overlooked, especially in retirement. So offering a relaxed, informal space to get together with others has been great for improving the lives of ‘Sheddies’ – and the positive impact filters into the community.
“Building something with a group of people which has some purpose attached to it is so helpful in bringing people out of depression and helping provide some meaning in people’s lives,” Floyd says.
The same is true for people involved in backyard trapping. Apart from the benefits of being out in thriving green spaces, the sense of contributing to a broader goal is hugely beneficial for trappers.
Local resident Alex Gossage was one of the first to sign up for the Shed and the trap-building workshop. “I work in an office, so it’s nice to do something practical that I can’t do at home because I don’t have a garage,” he says.
Alex sees the benefits of the predator free movement in his own backyard, where he reckons there is more birdlife than in some national parks. “There’s a community drive to keep making gains and not let the birds slip away again”, he says.
“Doing stuff with your hands and creating things is really good for your mental health, so getting involved in predator free is a perfect combo,” Alex says.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Predator Free NZ Trust for writing the original article.
“You’re giving the native birds a chance to breed, and you’re giving the residents something to be proud of. It’s a win-win,”
Chris hare, predator free Mt vic volunteer
Image credit: Predator Free NZ Trust
Our aim is to completely eradicate rats, possums, stoats and weasels from the entire Wellington region, a total area of 30,000 hectares.
The project entails intensive community engagement, which will require at least every third household or business in a 50m grid over the entire urban landscape to sign up and be an active part of our programme. to our programme.
Consisting of five different phases from Miramar up to the border with Porirua, it’s a large operation which involves high degrees of trust and solid relationships to be built!
Whilst we are focusing on the eradication projects in phase 1 and phase 2, there are 61 reserve and backyard trapping groups Wellington-wide actively suppressing invasive species and helping bring back our native taonga.
We try to support the volunteer group leads as much as we can, and when we asked how we can help them further, their answer was unanimous — we need more traps and we can help you make them — so regular tunnel building workshops at our Wilton depot began.
Tunnel building workshops are a great way to bring everyone together over a shared activity, fostering connections amongst trappers and topping up tunnel supplies, harnessing enthusiasm and facilitating an expanding trap network.
We have held two tunnel build sessions in the last 12 months, which saw 56 volunteers from 15 different trapping groups come together to build 579 tunnels for local trappers.
If you would like to host your own trap building session, we have created a resource that will help you create a workshop that best suits your community.
Acknowledgement: Our heartfelt thanks to every single trapper, for taking the time to check a trap in their backyard or local reserve.
pests caught by Wellington reserve and backyard trappers
(+9,432 catches this year)
Letter from Peter
This getting to zero is a tough business. We have the best technology in the world, and the best brains on the job, and a passion and conviction to get the job done. We are very determined to be the first city in the world to crack the code of predator free.
And you will see in this report that we are close on the Miramar peninsula; so, so close, but not quite there yet. Only a few more stubborn, belligerent outliers of Ship Rats to go. Norway rats, stoats, weasels are all gone.
The most important thing is that we are learning. We call this a predator free project, but it is really an innovation project. Tackling new biodiversity dilemmas from the edge of the world. What DO we need to do to get to zero in an urban environment? As a country we know that we need to solve the urban dilemma if we are to solve the whole dilemma. We are learning it is a military operation, which requires detailed and sophisticated deployment and resource planning. We have had to fall in love with data. We have had to try a range of new technologies. We have had to be prepared to fail, learn, fail, learn. Experimentation and measurement are the catchcry.
And yet the benefits are evident, so quickly. We have a 51% increase in native bird detections on the peninsula. I live there, so I really notice. My Sunday mornings with a coffee on the back porch are tuneful, blissful, and busy. Tūi, pīwakwaka, etc, and unfortunately, my trip to the woodpile is often an acquaintance with a fearsome wētā!
There are also non-tangible benefits. There is a social cohesion that comes with the project. We have a community with a common goal, a sense of purpose, whose unity transcends status, hierarchy, and ethnicity. We all want the same thing.
So, here at Predator Free Wellington we are committed to the cause, and we are prepared to experiment and innovate to get there. This project is not just about the goal, but what we learn along the way. It is not about us, but about the country, the planet.
As the Whakatauki says:
Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna to ngahere. Engari, ko te manu e kai it te matauranga, nōna te ao.
The bird that consumes the miro berry owns the forest. However, the bird that consumes learning, owns the world.
- Peter Chrisp, Chair, Predator Free Wellington Ltd