Reconnecting with nature leads to urban trapping

Central New Plymouth trapper Dave Watson is restoring biodiversity by helping wipe-out the city’s rats, with his faithful, four-legged friend.

Dave, a former oil and gas worker, regularly checks about 22 rat-traps around the Huatoki walkway, while taking his 13-year-old Springer Spaniel for a walk – it’s a circuit that takes them about 90 minutes.

Re-connecting with nature and answering a call to help protect the city’s precious native wildlife and plants from introduced predators, is what prompted Dave to volunteer to check traps, removing rats, possums and stoats from New Plymouth reserves, as part of Towards Predator-Free Taranaki.

Removing Introduced predators is the single-most effective way residents can protect native birds, plants, gardens, property and the region’s tourism and primary industries from the pests, which cause damage and spread diseases.

“I have always been interested in the outdoors, with a background in parks and recreation from Lincoln University, and my youthful idealism, I thought it would be a useful thing I could do,” Dave says.

It’s no surprise that since doing this several times a week, the 52-year-old is fitter now than he was ten years ago when he worked six days a week for Vause Oil Production Service and raised two children with wife Suzy.

“I’m not ideological anymore, but I’m practical. I believe whatever you do to support our native environment has got to be sustainable and practical otherwise it won’t work.”

Dave says he saw the damage rats can cause during a tramping trip to Stewart Island earlier this year. It was during 2019’s mast year, dubbed a Mega Mast Year because it’s caused predator numbers to explode due to an abundance of food from plants. Eventually, the Stewart Island rats were struggling to find enough food, with noticeably less birds in the area, and they started to eat each other, Dave says.

“The birds were pretty quiet and we were seeing a dozen rats on the tracks during the day looking for food. They had run out of food so they stated eating each other, it shows what they’re capable of,” he says.

Inspired by his 75-year-old father, Bill Watson, who had caught about 50 rats from his home near Pukekura Park, Dave started trapping in his backyard last year. The 2019 winter was the first ever that no rats or mice took refuge in the Watson’s Pendarves Street home, Dave says.

If you’d also like to volunteer checking traps in public parks and reserves near your home then contact New Plymouth District Council’s Laura George on 06 759 6060 or email: Laura.George@npdc.govt.nz.

Have a question about trapping, or using the trapping database Trap NZ to record catches? Call 0800 736 222 or email: pftaranaki@trc.govt.nz

Led by Taranaki Regional Council, Towards Predator-Free Taranaki works with district councils, schools, iwi and environmental groups, helping communities to restore local biodiversity by removing rats, possums and stoats.