To date, 65km of bait lines have been cut into the bush, with a little over 1000 bait stations attached to trees. A ring of DOC 200 stoat traps encircle the perimeter, and A24 self-resetting traps feature in specific, harder to reach locations. A dense network of Timms traps for possums can be found inside the Short Loop.
The work required to keep the pest control network active and effective is very hands on
- Adding and removing baits in the bait stations
- Checking and removing carcasses from the traps
- Regular monitoring for rodents using tracking tunnels
- Maintaining the access to each bait line (clearing tree fall, marking trails)
- Repairing the assets themselves installed in the forest… there’s plenty keeping us busy!
Up to four baiting operations are run annually, with hand placed poisons in bait stations that target rats or possums. The Project runs a tight ship and no toxins are left in the bush longer than necessary. All bait stations are revisited to remove uneaten bait and records of bait take are kept.
It’s not just pest control that features strongly in our restoration programme, there’s an ongoing species reintroduction effort. This has included a king fern (para, Ptisana salicina) protection enclosure that was built with the support of the Tauranga Deerstalkers Association and DOC. Annual birds counts also take place.
As the Project works on Department of Conservation land, the trustees create an annual agreed Operating Plan that sets out in detail the scope of our efforts, supported by appropriate policies and procedures. Health and safety is an important aspect, to ensure all volunteers have an enjoyable experience.
Like any project, there is much happening behind the scene to make things tick. Our volunteers are instrumental in everything from preparing baits for placement in the forest, to managing our email inbox and social media, to providing batches of homemade goodies for morning teas.
Things that require people resource (that aren’t specifically hand-on pest control) include:
- Managing special projects
- Producing reports and applying for funding
- Training new volunteers
- Taking photos and filming video
- Collecting and collating data
- Organising & manning events (Breakfast with the Birds, Conservation Week, local A&P shows etc)
- Liaison with schools, neighbors, iwi, hunters and other community groups (e.g. Rotary, Lions, Katch Katikati, Men’s Shed).
The Project’s trustees and part-time Operations Manager have quite a role to play, both in the forest and the admin side of things – meet them!
It’s hugely important to engage people with our native biodiversity and why it’s worth protecting. The Project works closely with the Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre, where many schools as well as private and corporate groups use the accommodation and facilities.
The Project is also a key collaborator in the hands-on Nature Education Program offered by Bay Conservation Alliance, delivering conservation education to school children in the Tauranga area.
Some of our highly experienced volunteers are very interesting and passionate guest speakers at local clubs and groups, and also host bespoke guided walks at the Project.
Special events are another way of sharing what is ‘alive at Aongatete’, and the Project runs regular Night Walks in the bush and the hugely popular annual Breakfast with the Birds event.
WHY CONTROL PESTS?
Rats and hedgehogs eat native lizards and invertebrates, and forage bird nests for eggs. Rats are prey for stoats, ferrets and feral cats – attracting them to the bush, where they also prey on native species. Possums are a problem throughout the Kaimai, striping the forest of much of its foliage and they also raid bird nests. Indeed, they have eaten so much vegetation that their favourite plants are now gone or going. The holes created in the canopy make tall trees like tawa vulnerable to being knocked over in the wind. As new seedlings and saplings grow, deer mow the forest floor clean, leaving bald patches.
Restoration of the Aongatete forest ecosystem requires pest control, and it’s making a difference. Compared to when the Project started, bird numbers are up – rifleman have reappeared and robin are common. The volume of insects has increased dramatically, which means more food for birds. With fewer possums, more green shoots, flowers and fruit can survive, feeding the native inhabitants and giving the forest’s natural regenerative processes a chance to work.