In the naughts of last century, Wellingtonians woke to the sound of whales scraping the barnacles off their backs and thrashing in the shallow waters of Oriental Bay.
In the naughts of this century, it was a different story - mostly without whales and with only a few native birds creating a ruckus. Almost every part of New Zealand has seen plummeting populations of native birds and Wellington - the capital of New Zealand - was no exception.
After Wellingtonians took their eyes off the ball, their tūī population dwindled to less than seven pairs, kākā were long-gone and tīeke (saddlebacks) were confined to offshore islands.
Creating a predator-free Wellington
Thanks to an influx of community involvement driving a large predator free movement, it’s hard to imagine Wellington without an abundance of native birds. Our capital city, and surrounding parks, reserves and forests, are now packed with tūī (a songbird native to New Zealand), home to a large population, 800+ of kākā (a native parrot) and a significant number of tīeke (another native bird, also known as saddlebacks).
If the number one reason for a resurgence in Wellington’s native birdlife is the commitment from individuals, councils and community groups to remove the pests that predate our native birdlife’s eggs, it’s been built on the foundation of the city’s abundance of public green spaces and parks.
Wellington is blessed with some great green spaces for all to enjoy. Spending time in nature every day is a highly-valued perk and well-formed habit for Wellingtonians as well as supporting our feathered friends.
Importantly, green spaces form a safe corridor for our birdlife to breed, fledge and flourish.
Green spaces in a predator-free city
Zealandia is the most important example of how a public green space in Wellington has been successfully protected. In 1999, an 8.6km fence was built around the Karori reservoir. The eco-sanctuary’s goal is simple: to keep invasive pests away from sensitive birds, lizards and insects.
Capital Kiwi is one of New Zealand’s most ambitious community conservation projects. Its mission is to return our national icon - kiwi - to Wellington’s backyard. The key goal to make that mission possible is to eliminate stoats, ferrets and weasels. The project area is over 20,000 hectares and involves thousands of our automatic resetting traps.
Aro Valley residents in Wellington are passionately protecting tīeke. They’ve been so successful that Polhill Reserve was the first unfenced home on the mainland to have successful breeding pairs in over 100 years!
Such conservation initiatives are almost always led by pioneers within the community and then supported by regional and city councils, and individuals. They prove that working together really is better.
Where did the collective shift in consciousness to turn things around come from? Whose idea was it to start working together - to set a trap or plant a tree in our own backyards and neighbourhoods?
Going predator-free, the Kiwi way
Kiwis are never far from nature - many of us grew up on or near farms while others spent their holidays tramping, fishing or at the beach. You could say we’re addicted to nature so looking after our land is something that comes easily for many.
We owe a lot to one of New Zealand’s most influential physicists and visionary conservationists, the late Sir Paul Callaghan.
He framed the ambition of New Zealand’s community groups around New Zealand, identified the predator-free NZ goal and likened it to the aspirations of a nation attempting to reach the moon.
“Let’s get rid of the lot,” he said. “Let’s get rid of all the damn mustelids, all the rats, all the possums, from the mainland islands of New Zealand.”
By describing it as our moonshot, Callaghan envisioned a common goal we could collectively imagine. A goal that would only be possible if we all work together.
So what is predator-free 2050?
Predator Free 2050 funding gives community groups the funds to purchase traps and service their trapping lines.
The Predator Free NZ 2050 campaign has set a target for everyone to work towards. It’s given a collective name to the massive work that thousands of community groups and individual Kiwis have been doing for decades in their spare time. They’re a hard-working bunch committed to bringing New Zealand’s wildlife back - birds, bats and lizards - and our native trees: pohutukawa, rata and kōtukutuku. Everything is populated onto the predator free 2050 list, and we have a clear collective focus.
Biological diversity was normal where I grew up, in a small-town West Coast town in New Zealand. I took it for granted. Living in such a remote place had its challenges. But what it lacked in big-city bustle, Whataroa made up for with its abundance of endemic birds and views of epic landscapes. Trips to see the nesting grounds of kotoku or the classic mix of jet boating and birdwatching. Tourism rose to number one for the local economy. It quickly evolved from selling products of nature (logs, coal, and gold) to selling experiences in nature.
Conservation efforts often ramp up when we recognise the absence or decline of what once surrounded us - it’s the realisation of what’s at stake.
Why a collective predator-free New Zealand goal matters
No single organisation can tackle the problem of invasive pests on its own. It’s taken hundreds of years for many of our native plants and wildlife to be recognised as vulnerable, threatened or endangered and it’s going to take a collective focus for us to restore this.
We believe in empowering individuals from all backgrounds in their fight for nature. Not just experienced trappers in the bush, but everyone from kids at school to folks in their rest home. That’s why our design focus has always been about doing all of the hard work, so a customer has the most seamless experience possible and equips them for a lifetime of successful trapping. When we were recognised as one of the chosen predator-free New Zealand traps, we knew we were a part of the movement. Together, our impact is so much greater than alone, and with the drive we know New Zealanders have, we can achieve so much.
We can’t get back what we’ve already lost, but by working together, we believe it won’t take us long to bring back what we have left and create a truly predator-free New Zealand.
Robbie van-Dam, Co-founder Goodnature.