Capital punishment for pests

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The national ambition to create a pest-free country by 2050 currently looks like a long shot but Wellington is starting to show some serious progress.

Twenty-seven Wellington suburbs now have trapping programmes and native birdlife is rapidly returning to many of them.

“I think we are about 50 percent of the way there” says Kelvin Hastie, who started the first trapping programme in his own suburb of Crofton Downs.

“We had 20 Kaka chicks born in Crofton Downs this season and we are getting on top of the rats and stoats.”

Hastie says neighbouring suburbs like Karori, Ngaio and Khandallah have joined the war on pests and are creating a buffer zone.

“There are six suburbs where we now have 3500 traps covering 4000 hectares. We are getting the stoats before they get in.”

Since starting three years ago, Hastie has been instrumental in getting the Wellington Council, Greater Wellington and the philanthropic organisation the Next foundation to join forces with him.

“We still don’t have enough money but we have learnt how to get the best bang for our buck.

Hastie's own backyard was his test case.

“I had never seen a Tui or a Kereru in my backyard, but as soon as I got rid of the rats from my backyard both birds arrived.”

So, what is the worst predator: rats, mice, stoats or weasels?

“People really want to hate or dislike one particular predator but it's often the combination of predators that is the big problem.”

When pushed, Hastie reluctantly nominates the rat as the worst.

“Stoats are probably the most disliked but rats eat everything – birds, baby birds, lizards, insects, seeds - you name it. As well as wildlife, they are impacting our forests.”

Hastie is also cautious when it comes to commenting on the problems caused by cats.

“Conservationists hate cats but that is one thing I don’t want to do and can’t afford to do. Cats and dogs are part of people’s families and we should treat them like family members.

We have 5000 backyard trappers now and we don’t want people dropping out or not joining because they think we are against cats.

“From what I see, domestic cats are very lazy and not that much of a problem. We have a big domestic cat population here but the bird numbers are increasing.

"We need to focus on getting rid of the feral cats that can range over large distances.”

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