We all want to live in a place where the neighbours look out for you, the environment is cared for and there’s plenty to do. But good communities aren’t born, they’re made.
We talk to Aucklanders striving to make their local areas better, like those working to make Howick pest-free.
Mangemangeroa Reserve in Howick is vast and full of pests.
Weasels, possums and rats lie hidden in its groves of pōhutukawa and harakeke and along the shores of its estuary.
The predators have long stopped native birds from fully flourishing in the area, robbing nests and killing chicks.
But lately, they’ve encountered stiffer resistance. More traps than usual are set around the reserve’s waterfront and in its native bush and, one by one, the predators are being picked off.
Every few weeks, a group of teenagers comes to collect the latest batch of carcasses.
Student pest exterminators
Ethan McCormick is the student trustee for the Envirogroup at Howick College and the ringleader of Mangemangeroa’s newest band of amateur pest exterminators.
He and fellow group members set and monitor 20 traps around the reserve, regularly going on two-and-a-half-hour expeditions to check them for dead pests. His days are spent oscillating between schoolwork and eradicating as many invasive species in his local area as possible.
McCormick’s story is a blueprint for how enthusiastic locals can make a difference to their community when given even a little bit of encouragement and support.
Though he always cared about New Zealand’s birdlife and biodiversity, his pest-control mission didn’t begin until last year, when he was gifted some rat traps at a ‘Pestival’ run by Auckland Council at a local school. He set the traps near Howick College.
“We didn’t get much success,” he says, “but we did manage to catch one rat.”
It was to be the first catch of many. Inspired to keep doing what he could to help Howick’s birdlife, he talked to Friends of Mangemangeroa Society member Sally Barclay, who set him to work distributing ‘chew cards’ – strips of corflute coated in peanut butter and used to pinpoint where pests are feeding around the reserve.
His dedication to the task caught the attention of Auckland Council’s Sustainable Schools Advisor Cate Jessep and Pest Free Howick Co-ordinator Lorelle Stranaghan. They gifted him and the Envirogroup 20 more traps.
Creating a stop-off for native birds
Stranaghan says McCormick and his group are part of a wider effort to make Howick a stop-off for migrating native birds.
The initiative is part of the Pest Free Auckland 2050 strategy, which is part-funded by the council’s natural environment targeted rate.
“It’s really just about having good habitats and low pest numbers so the birds will come here from the Hauraki Gulf islands,” she says.
“You imagine the birds are flying in from Little Barrier to Tiritiri Matangi; they’ve come across to another predator-free island on the way, and then they’ll come [to Howick].”
The first trap McCormick and his team checked contained a dead weasel. In one area next to a creek, they collected three dead rats one week and another three a couple of weeks later. The impact was almost instantaneous
“The first time we went down there, we saw a couple of blackbirds. The next time, there were tūī in the trees. There were fantails,” he says. “It’s quite amazing – the birds seem to just know when it’s safe to move in.”
That success had a galvanising effect. McCormick stayed committed to his work and was eventually given more pest traps. He set them in a patch of bush behind his house, near some pōhutukawa that had visible pest damage. Four possums have been caught so far.
Stranaghan’s story is similar.
She was inspired to start her own pest-control operation after being given some free rat traps at a council event and went on to set between 60 or 70 snares in her area.
Both of them know that to make a real dent in Howick’s pest numbers, they have to keep recruiting.
McCormick and his fellow Envirogroup members took the lead in organising a ‘Pestival’ of their own at Howick College last month.
They gave out free rat traps, just like the ones that got McCormick into trapping, and ran a competition to see who could dig up the most moth plants, an invasive weed afflicting the area.
“I think it’s just taking ownership of your own area and getting involved because the results that you get are quite instant and quite amazing,” McCormick says.
Stranaghan spends her days talking to students and community groups about how they can do their own pest control. Real change is going to take everyone working together, she says.
“Everyone has to take accountability and actually make a difference themselves. Just looking around in their own backyards or their local reserves or when they’re on a walk – we’re all responsible.”
Live Local. Love Local. Be a part of it!
This month we are highlighting examples of the council and the community coming together to drive positive local change – focusing on local diversity, how empowered communities are shaping the future of their neighbourhoods, making the most of local amenities and facilities, as well as caring for their environment and those who are struggling through tough times.
Read all about it at ourauckland.nz/lovelocal