By Marino-Moana Begman
I love our country and Northland is my home. The picturesque coastline, the trees, waterways, colours of native flora and fauna, and the birdsong heard on the breeze, is what makes Northland the best place to be.
As a kid it didn’t occur to me that New Zealand’s native trees and abundance of birdlife would one day be under threat. Things like ‘guardianship of the environment’ and ‘native biodiversity’ were not openly discussed, or if they were I wasn’t paying attention.
Rats, possums and stoats are now public enemy number one. They’ve overrun our backyards and forests. This migration and their reproduction patterns have caused a decline in the natural regeneration of forest growth and birdlife breeding.
Community-led projects such as Tiakina Whangārei aim to engage residents in making a predator-free urban environment. The goal is to protect the wildlife and bring them back into our yards.
Many will say, ‘But what can I do?’ or ‘I’m only one person.’
Phill Boswell is ‘one person’ doing amazing things. Boswell, a regular hardworking Whangārei resident, approached Dr Dai Morgan and the Tiakina Whangārei project, enthusiastic to do his part. Phill started with a couple of traps in his backyard and the surrounding forest near his home.
With his neighbours, they have laid 27 traps down by Macksey Road. In 7 months, 22 possums and 160 rats have been caught.
“What makes you do it? What’s the reward?” I ask.
“I’ve always loved nature. I love the birdlife. Hearing tūī in the morning, coming home to fantails. Since I’ve started trapping there’s more birdlife. That’s the reward. People see what I’m doing and stop to ask questions. I show them how to set the traps and log the catches via the app.”
“There’s an app?” I ask.
“Oh, yes,” Phill says, opening his phone to Trap NZ to show me.
“One of my neighbours, who is retired, leaves a notebook on his porch. He records the catches in there, and I update the app for him.”
“Is the app just to record data or is there more to it?”
“I suppose Dr Dai Morgan could answer that better than me, but the app shows how many traps have been set, where they are, and how many rats, possums and stoats have been caught in our area.”
“How much time do you spend clearing and rebaiting the traps?”
“It takes me about an hour, and I clear them once a week.”
“Where do you dispose of the rats?”
Phill says “When it comes to rats you have to be careful. Even the dead ones spread diseases. I bury them but never close to a waterway or in a wash off area. That’s important.”
“If I were clearing my own rat trap, would I have to touch a dead rat?”
Phill takes out his tablet and shows me a picture of his kit.
There are tongs, a fold-out spade, gloves and a jar of peanut butter. I ask what the peanut butter is for. It’s the bait. Apparently, rats love it.
Seeing the tongs and gloves make the thought of clearing my own trap seem less daunting. But I’m still cautious because a dead rat is still a dead rat.
I open the next question with, “I smell a rat.” My poor attempt at a joke. Then, “Phill, is it smelly?”
“Yes, it can be a bit smelly if the rat has been trapped earlier in the week and you’re clearing it at the end of the week–especially in the warmer months.”
There you have it. I just know I couldn’t handle that. A dead and smelly rat? Phill sees the look on my face.
“Do it for nature,” he says, and smiles.
“Is that why you do it?” I ask. “For nature?”
“I guess it’s a connection to my surroundings, the land and nature that makes me do it. As you get a bit older, a bit wiser you see things differently and appreciate nature and the environment more than ever before, so you want to do what you can.”
Phill Boswell has inspired me to do more–to do my part too. He is a remarkable example of what one person can do. Before we part ways, I thank him and ask, “What would you like to see if we all did our part?”
He says, “I want to see and hear what it used to be like, before the pests. I would love to hear what Joseph Banks, Captain Cook’s botanist, described in 1770.”
“This morn I awakd by the singing of the birds ashore…the numbers of them were certainly very great…their voices were certainly the most melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with the most tuneable silver sound imagineable.“