Podcast: The Detail

Can we be predator-free in 20 years?

How realistic is New Zealand's goal of being pest-free by 2050?

It’s just over three years since the Predator Free 2050 goal was announced, with the aim of restoring New Zealand’s spectacular bird chorus.

When he announced it, then-Prime Minister John Key described it as “the most ambitious conservation project anywhere in the world”.

It has also been likened to New Zealand’s version of going to the moon.

There are pest-free projects in place all over the country – but can we really achieve this lofty aim?

On The Detail today, Sharon Brettkelly meets two people who are doing their best to help get there, waging their own attack on predators on their 1300 hectare family farm on the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland.

They’re making headway. Gill Adshead says it’s like war time – bringing people together for a common purpose.

“The common purpose during war was the enemy ... and the enemy is now predators,” she says.

She and husband Kevin live in an off-grid cottage in a secluded corner of their farm, from where they can hear at least three pairs of kiwi calling.

The couple has set up the Forest Bridge Trust to create a pest-free, coast-to-coast corridor of more than 100,000 hectares across this slice of the upper North Island.

It’s not something they imagined doing when they were raising their children on the farm.

“We didn’t have time enough to even plant trees in those days,” says Kevin. “But since then we probably plant about 10,000 trees a year.”

They use a combination of traps – testing all sorts of new types – and 1080. Kevin says 1080 is needed every three to five years to combat trap-shy stoats. Cats are also a huge problem.

“We catch more wild cats on this farm every year than we do possums,” he says.

Understanding how dangerous your cat is is a start. Kevin says it’s important to be aware of the fact they’re natural hunters – and to keep them in at night.

Pest control started in 2006, Gill saying they realised they shouldn’t be putting cattle into the bush in the winter time any more.

“So the family made the decision to retire 400 hectares of the property,” she says. A lot of it was in bush and a lot of it was marine wetlands. First the possums were killed off; then the rats; then the stoats. At that stage it was realised the land would be ideal for kiwi.

The couple got the neighbours involved, and helped them with intensive trapping plans. Those plans expanded to the Forest Bridge Trust idea. So far the Trust has spent nearly a million dollars, with funding from Auckland Council, DoC and other public agencies.

Auckland Council is spending a lot of money on deer, pig and goat control.

It’s a costly effort – fencing off streams for example is hugely expensive, at $25,000 a kilometre.

But Gill says you have to have tangible goals, and even if the land is not predator-free by 2050, there will be a huge tract of protected land where our unique species can reproduce and still live, with a low number of pests.

“It’s the knowledge – getting the next generation to understand that actually we’re all going to have a trap in our back yard that we check every day, just like we clean our teeth.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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