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Controlling rats brings birds back to the mainland

Helen Bowden, her five siblings and 90-year old mother are a family on a mission: to attract the once-abundant native birdlife back to their farm Tawapou, at Matapouri on Northland’s east coast.

 The 124-hectare property has been in the Bowden family since 1966. “Mum and Dad loved trees so were careful not to clear all the bush, and they kept the possums under control,” says Helen. “When Dad died too young in 1980, Mum was determined to keep up the good fight. We’re all in it together now.”

As the population of rats has risen, the native birds have retreated to the fully protected Poor Knights Islands nearby.

“We want to turn things around - create a safe place for native birds on the mainland again,” she says. “We’re using a whole range of weapons. Rats are our number one enemy, especially in a mast year. Knocking them out makes a real difference.”

Helen’s family has always adopted the latest alternatives for controlling pests, especially those proven to be effective without using toxins. “Goodnature’s A24 traps are a critical part of our tool kit. Knowing that the A24s kill multiple stoats and rats humanely and without toxins, sits perfectly with our ethos. Our ultimate plan is for all our pest control methods to be humane and toxin-free.”

“Since getting the stoats under control, the increase in the number of native birds has been astonishing”, Helen says.

“It’s not unusual to see 50 tui in our grove of kowhai trees and kereru everywhere. Recently, for the first time in 50 years, we spotted two rare kakariki (red-crowned parakeet). And the ten kiwi we’ve released over time are attracting wild kiwi from other areas. It’s really heartening.”

Helen notes that oi (grey-faced petrels) hadn’t been seen on the headland for 80 years.

“We now have 19 active burrows and many fledged chicks. If we can keep the stoats away, the chicks stand a chance. If we don’t, they haven’t got a hope.”

Measuring their success is the family’s next big project. “By using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, we can set baselines and be sure our traps are in the right places to get the best results. Keeping better records and centralizing our data will mean we can share our success with neighbors and local conservation groups. As Tawapou isn’t an economically viable farm, there’s an opportunity to conserve it and bring our native birds back instead.”