amazing response to the Great Barrier Island Charitable Trust ‘referendum’ – pink
page after pink page unfolded to reveal both "yes" and "no" answers,
requests for information, donations, membership forms, and many notes of
encouragement and helpful comments.
It was very
satisfying for us to know that the vast majority of the 585 forms
returned support this small group of locals. It was particularly
rewarding to see our membership increase dramatically, and to get some
positive comments and generous donations from off-shore and overseas
respondents. The returned results overwhelmingly speak for themselves:
was entered into a data base, hence the need for numbering, and notes
made of comments and questions. The huge job for the Trust now is to
resource itself to be able to research all the matters relating to an
island wide eradication and communicate this back to the community.
The need for a ‘referendum’, (‘questionnaire’, call it what you will)
was to ask as many residents and ratepayers as possible, what they, as a
community, thought about our vision of a feral cat and rat-free Great
Barrier Island We have a clear mandate to keep going. Thank you.
referendum was sent to ‘all’ residents and ratepayers, both on island,
elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas. We have since become aware that
some people who should have received it, didn’t. This is in itself a
significant finding – there seems to be no fool-proof way of
communicating with all concerned. We can only assure those who didn’t
receive it that we did our best, and we’ll be looking into the problem.
that c. 60% of the private land on Barrier is owned by off-island
ratepayers, and this proportion of our questionnaires went to them.
Consequently it was interesting to get 53% of our replies from the 40%
of people living on the island, indicating a very strong level of local
also included a range of perfectly reasonable questions—some of which we
would like to reply to as follows.
Are we paid?
Our funds are
raised through applications to funding organisations and from the
membership. Currently all five Trustees contribute most or all of their
time on a voluntary basis. The Project Manager (Liz Westbrooke), who is
researching the steps needed to achieve eradication, is paid for 8
hours/week from funds we applied for specifically for this role. The
Trust secretary (Fenella Christian) is paid for 10 hours per week of her
time. One of her main roles is to apply for additional funding to keep
us going! It may be that as the jobs get bigger in future we will need
to reimburse trustees for their expenses and some of their time, but we
will remain an essentially voluntary Charitable Trust composed of mainly
resident members of the Great Barrier Is. community.
Is this a
For all the
Trustees, rat eradication and the benefits derived from it are an
interest and a passion perhaps, but a bit too much like hard work to
call it a hobby. Most ‘hobbies’ don’t try to halt the waning of New
Zealand’s biodiversity—listed as one of the top 10 issues facing the
country at this time.
Chairperson (John Ogden) has expertise in Ecology, and there are also
collective skills in Project Management. Liz Westbrooke in particular
has knowledge in that area. Judy Gilbert and Fenella Christian (Trust
secretary) have years of experience in raising funds for employment in
conservation projects, and community building. They have a wide network
for information gathering. Tony Bouzaid has an understanding of many
community related matters through his long-term role on the Community
Board, and both he and Judy have first-hand experience of rat and feral
cat control on the extensive properties they manage. David Speir has
experience in journalism and nature tourism, and he edits the
Newsletter. Overall then, we can claim a level of appropriate
expertise.2 This should not be mistaken for arrogance; we are
acutely aware that we do not have all the answers and that there are
many other points of view to be heard. In particular, we have no
effective input from local Iwi at present. There are also technical
aspects of an eradication campaign for which outside expertise will be
required. Neither this Trust, nor those outside experts, should make
decisions for this community. Exactly how such a community-led decision
with regard to rat/feral cat eradication can be arrived at, is one of
the main questions currently facing the Trust, and on which we need
feedback. We are certainly not experts on that!
referendum was about eradication of pests not pets! Most of the Trustees
have treasured pets and we are all aware of the importance of them,
particularly for anyone who lives here alone or in an isolated
situation. While we have such high densities of rats, a house cat
assists with keeping their numbers down. Our vision is for a feral
cat free island. To avoid pet cats going feral we would need
biosecurity measures. The first step would be to de-sex pet cats,
because without this no-one could be persuaded to put any support into
feral cat elimination. However, we recognize that this is something that
the community must first agree to. This is an inhabited island and a
balance between the needs of human and native species will be worked
towards. There were many respondents, mainly locals, who commented
negatively on the numbers of un-managed pets, and visiting domestic cats
and dogs. The issue of micro-chipping them was also much commented on.
Whether or not animals are micro-chipped will be the subject of
investigation and information-sharing with the community before the
Trust has any clear opinion on this.
cats be used to control rats and rabbits?
many hundreds of feral cats living in the bush. Their diet is unknown,
but they probably feed mainly on rats and young rabbits. If rats were
eradicated many feral cats would also die, but others would
‘prey-switch’ to birds. This could be disastrous for some species – such
as brown teal. To avoid this, feral cats must be targeted at the same
time as rats. There were a number of suggestions that feral cats be used
to control the rabbits
and rats. Predators of course never eliminate their prey – as a rule of
thumb any given weight (biomass) of prey can support only 10% that
weight of predators. On average one cat weighs as much as 18 rats, which
means that to support one feral cat requires a permanent rat population
at least 180 times greater than the number of cats. Many other factors
control both cat and rat numbers, but this simple calculation serves to
point out that pest control by predators is not an option. (New Zealand
tried this with stoats and weasels and what a disaster that has been!).
Apart from a few managed areas on both private and Department of
Conservation land, the bulk of this island is not managed for pests at
all, leaving the cats to do their thing. The problem with leaving the
feral cats is thus that they also like eating more than rats; lizards,
ground nesting shore and bush birds, and insects. The rabbit issue is a
whole other problem which requires more research and more information to
be given to the community before a consensus can be reached. Rabbits
however are not such a problem for our native birds. Currently they may
be sustaining the feral cat population.
Are we self
evolved from the Great Barrier Island Private Conservation Initiatives –
a group of locals who got together in 2001/2 to share our conservation
activities. There are currently four founding Great Barrier Island
Trustees and one nominated. Although we get most of our funding from
government organisations, we also have growing membership support, and
we strongly maintain our autonomy as a community group.
What is our
stand on the current Marine Reserve proposal?
deed has a clause that states one of our objectives as: "Promotion of
and support for integrated planning and management of the marine
environment around all the coastal areas of Great Barrier Island,
which may include marine reserved areas, mataitai, partial take areas
and Taiapure." However, we are not, at this stage, seeking to represent
the community in this area. Our current focus is on the eradication of
rats and feral cats, which in itself is a huge task, never before
attempted on such a large inhabited island. The Trust has made no
submissions or statements regarding the Marine Reserve Proposal, nor
could it now do so, unless specifically invited by the Minister of
Fisheries. Some trustees made individual submissions, but these were
clearly made on their own behalf.
Do we think
feral cat and rat eradication is really possible?
Yes to both!
Thank you for the great level of support, the thought provoking comment
and questions, and for such a clear indication that the majority support
this Trust exploring further the vision of a rat and feral cat-free
Great Barrier Island .
Ogden, Judy Gilbert, Tony Bouzaid, David Speir, Liz Westbrooke, Fenella
The forms have been independently checked and the form counts verified
by Angela Wright, Accountant, Puriri Bay.