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Trapping moderates the rise and rise of rat numbers

Trapping moderates the rise and rise of rat numbers

While the second census of rat numbers on the Miramar Peninsula shows rising numbers, local trapping groups are holding the line in the face of a significant rise in rat numbers throughout the country.

“We’ve come through a long hot summer and a warm autumn which has provided plenty of food, perfect breeding conditions for fast-growing rat populations,” says Greater Wellington Regional Council environmental scientist Dr Philippa Crisp.

This year’s census of the rat population on the peninsula recovered 95 per cent of chew cards (which attract rats and if chewed records their presence) up from 91 per cent last year; 17 per cent had been chewed by rats, an increase of just five per cent from last year.

“Given the weather, we could have expected more,” says Dr Crisp. “That we haven’t is probably a sign of the success of Miramar’s backyard trappers, who have grown in number and enthusiasm over the past year. They are almost holding the line, but this year’s results shows the challenges faced in keeping rat numbers down over time.”

The second census of rats and stoats on the Miramar Peninsula was supported by volunteer groups which worked with Greater Wellington to place 281 chew cards throughout the peninsula on a grid at 200m x 200m intervals.

The cards, left in place for three nights, used peanut butter to attract rats, stoats and other native bird predators.

The highest proportion of rat chews was once again found on the coast, where 35 per cent of cards were chewed. Increases were also found in urban areas where rats have easy access to sources of food.

Only two cards showed evidence of stoats, down from six last year, but mice chews were common and found on nearly half of all cards.

“A really positive sign in the fight to protect our native birds is the explosive growth in the number of people getting involved in predator control,” says Predator Free Wellington project director James Willcocks.

“In the year since the last predator census, backyard predator trapping in Miramar and around the region has grown rapidly to involve almost every community in Wellington.

“More and more people are getting on board and establishing trapping groups,” he says. “At last count we had some 23 backyard groups across 36 suburbs throughout the city, which shows phenomenal interest in making us the first predator free capital. There may well be more we don’t know of.

“There are also some 40 community groups actively trapping in the city’s reserves and about 80 community groups are working in the broader ecological restoration space, in reserves throughout the city, which is fantastic.

“A very positive critical mass is no doubt developing as people take control of what’s happening in their own backyards. Participation is remarkable, we estimate around 12,000 people are involved.

“But we need to maintain this momentum in light of the growth in rat numbers, we don’t want to fall behind. We need to get more people involved in trapping, so we urge people to connect with their local groups via the Predator Free Wellington website,” says Mr Willcocks.

Wellington City Council is partnering with NEXT Foundation and Greater Wellington Regional Council to make Wellington the first predator-free capital city. The initial focus is on eradicating rats and stoats from Miramar Peninsula, with a plan to extend the strategy to the eradicating introduced predators of native birds across the entire Wellington City area.
Facts for the news media

• There are 23 backyard groups in Wellington currently and residents can connect with them on www.pfw.org.nz and there’s a couple more currently being established. Almost every suburb is now covered, and there are just a couple of gaps – it would be great to see a couple of other smaller areas join in

• There are approximately 40 community groups actively trapping in the city’s reserves and 80 community groups are working in the broader ecological restoration space

• The Miramar Peninsula, which is set to become the first predator free area, following the eradication of possums in the mid-2000s, currently has around 650 households in Miramar and Seatoun participating in backyard trapping. Miramar Peninsula is the first phase of the broader Predator Free Wellington strategy,

• We can comfortably say there are thousands of people involved (the last count was 5000 households involved, but that is getting closer to 6000 now – assuming two people per household then there must be 12,000 directly involved, and that figure is growing).

• Predator Free Miramar has just celebrated its 900th catch.

• Predator Free Karori is leading the charge for all of Wellington, reshaping the landscape with 700 trappers in just a few months since the group launched. This makes them New Zealand's largest Predator Free Community.

• Based on engagement with these volunteers, it is clear that:

o anyone with an inherent interest in doing their bit for conservation can participate in predator free activity
o there are low barriers to entry - all it takes is getting a (free) trap from a local group, placing it in your backyard and then setting and checking it regularly. It’s literally an activity that takes just a few minutes every week.
o people are enjoying the social side of this activity they are comparing notes and tips on baiting, getting together to make trapping tunnels etc – but with the longer term gains firmly in sight.
o the anecdotal feedback of people involved is they are seeing more native birds in their gardens, and that is helping to keep people motivated.

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