I owe a lot to Great Barrier. In my past life as a naïve D.o.C recreation
planner I spent two summers on the island running the summer holiday
programme. I had a great teacher in Don Woodcock and through his
knowledge and experience I was able to take people for great walks and
experiences across the island. I learned quickly that this is a place of
great contrast — the most memorable one being told that the weather was
wonderful in summer only to come out and have three cyclones in six
weeks and spend New Years Eve getting revelers out of their tents at
Kaiarara Bay as the creek burst its banks.
It’s nice now to be able to come and give something back to a place that
taught me a lot about island life, the complexities of integrating
people and conservation and the passion that people have for the place
they live in.
The Great Barrier Island Charitable Trust has had a bit of a rocky ride.
I can appreciate both sides of the debate in the community—wanting to
remove animal pests from the island and the concerns about wide scale
use of some control techniques such as toxins in the environment.
However the bottom line is that Great Barrier is a special and unique
place. A lot of this is to do with the unwavering dedication of the
people who live there to keep it a special place, but it also has a lot
to do with its wilderness qualities and the fact that key animal pests
which are wreaking such havoc on the mainland such as possums and
mustelids are not on the island.
It’s significantly important that an island the size of Great Barrier so
close to Auckland, with minimal biosecurity measures and so accessible
to visitors, has so few species of animal pests.
what this means is that the few that are present can take maximum
advantage of their environment—a well-stocked larder in the forests,
wetlands and farmland and superior housing with low competition from
Some would argue that minimal bio-security can work — look at Motuora
Island, which has never had rodents but is easily accessible to the
public who can land boats on the beach. However this is an anomaly and
is more good luck than planning. Biosecurity measures need not be
disruptive to people’s lives. It’s more about valuing the uniqueness of
a place and taking simple steps to ensure new pests do not establish.
Boats are probably the greatest source of a new pest — rats are commonly
known to stowaway on boats. This is a common cause of reinvasion onto
offshore islands where eradications have been undertaken. Simply
checking your boat on a regular basis and periodically setting and
maintaining a bait station or trap is all that is need-ed. In practice
all other biosecurity measures are this simple.
Animal pests in whatever form are NOT a part of our natural environment
in New Zealand. Unlike other environments (e.g. Australia) our native
species did not evolve with the ability to defend themselves against
predators and competitors. As a result New Zealand has experienced one
of the highest extinction rates of native species in the world.
The sad thing is that with all our knowledge today this trend continues.
Many native species only thrive on offshore islands where eradication
programmes have been undertaken and where it is difficult for people to
visit. On the mainland keystone species such as kiwi and kereru are in
rapid decline. And its not only the birds that suffer — unfortunately
most animal pests eat anything that walks, crawls, flies or grows and so
the basic life support systems of many of our ecosystems — invertebrates
and vegetation are constantly under pressure. To make matters worse it’s
not as simple as saying well lets remove the rats and everything will be
fine. The problem is like most things in life — everything is connected
to everything else – take out one component and another problem occurs —
remove rats and then cats will increase their consumption of another
food source (most likely native) to compensate.
But there is hope and it involves a simple equation — integrating people
and conservation. A lot of my work is in working with communities and
groups to reverse the effects of animal pests, restore natural
environments and minimize impacts on surrounding landowners. There is
invariably compromise and to be effective it has to be on both sides.
For me effective communication is listening to and respecting ALL sides
regardless of whether I agree or not and then trying to work out some
form of action plan that meets everyone’s concerns — for me problems are
challenges to overcome. This may seem overly simplistic or a bit dreamy
but it does work and it works well. Honesty and openness is also
important — I have found that a lot of the issue around various pest
control measures is a result of people being provided with limited
information. Every pest control measure has advantages and risks and all
need to be presented openly so people can make well-informed decisions
about their use and impact.
However, at the end of the day it’s people that make the difference. I
would like to see more debate and innovation on how we could improve the
lot for native species and natural environments on Great Barrier.
I would like to see the development of a community-led strategy for
improved integrated management of all of the natural environments on the
island — be they D.o.C, iwi, private or community trusts. Concerns about
who pays and what effects it has on personal freedom and pockets do need
to be addressed but I would argue that if such a strategy were developed
that had the support of the whole community, funding sources would not
be hard to find and the outcomes would be beneficial for both the local
community and the environment.