Trapping lessons from the pest evangelists of Taupaki

From a lifestyle block in Taupaki, a dynamic couple is ridding the land of pests, one trap at a time.

Words: Michael Andrew  Images: James Blackwood

When it comes to protecting Aotearoa’s native birds, catching just one possum is a success. But Shona and Phillip Oliver have trapped 80 – along with four ferrets and one weasel – off a single tree. Now, thanks to the couple’s tireless pest eradication efforts, native birds have been returning to their 18.2-hectare property in Taupaki, west of Auckland.

“It’s incredible how quickly the birds come back once you start getting some traps out,” Shona says. “We’re already seeing kereru, tui, fantails, and ruru on our land. It’s great to be doing our bit.”

The duo has earned such a reputation as conservation stalwarts, FMG sent out lifestyle block owner and chef Michael Van de Elzen and FMG lifestyle advice and insurance specialist, Montana Kerr, to learn how trapping is done. Shona and Phillip are FMG clients and know how important it is to take care of their local environment.

Shona removing a dead possum from a tree.

“I really love our country; our native flora and fauna,” says Shona. “I’ve become a bit of a pest evangelist, trying to rid the place of possums, stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats, just doing it one pest at a time.”

Not only does Shona set and check the traps around her block, but she also builds many of them herself. “It’s easy enough to make your own if you’re a little bit crafty. Just get some 150mm fence paling and some mesh and away you go.”

She’s also heavily involved with Predator Free 2050, and is an avid user of TrapNZ – the app which lets you record trap monitoring and biodiversity outcome data, and connect with the thriving New Zealand conservation community.

Shona demonstrating the TrapNZ app.

“Involving the community is the key,” says Shona. “We’ve had some community meetings to get the ball rolling, find out who’s interested, find out who’s already trapping, and by doing that and by involving your neighbours, you’re actually closing the gap. Hopefully we can get the whole country covered.”

Alongside protecting native birds and trees, Shona and Phillip are also committed to taking care of local waterways. Shona is a part of Wai Care, a citizen science programme that allows landowners to test and monitor water quality on their properties.

As part of the Kumeu Small Landowners Association, Shona carries out testing of neighbouring streams on blocks of 20 hectares or more in size. She’s also worked with volunteers from a local school to plant over 8,000 trees on a neighbouring farm, with the aim of reducing the amount of sediment flowing into the Kaipara Harbour, and making waterways more inhabitable for native species.

The Olivers have two streams that run through their property, both of which feed the Kumeu river, which itself feeds the massive harbour 20km to the north. Because of their efforts, tuna (eels) and koura (freshwater crayfish) have started returning to their waterways.

With Wiltshire sheep and beehives to take care of, it’s not easy for the couple to undertake such intensive conservation work. Phillip jokingly calls their lifestyle block a “life-sentence block”. But it’s all inspired by a philosophy that the couple live by: treat the land kindly, do no harm.

Learn more about keeping pests at bay.

As New Zealand’s leading rural insurer with over 117 years of experience, FMG can provide you with specialist advice and award-winning insurance for your lifestyle block.

Phone: 0800 366 466
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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

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