Ratatouille: Birkenhead’s Urban Rat Blitz

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  7. Ratatouille: Birkenhead’s Urban Rat Blitz

The suburb of Birkenhead sits on Auckland’s North Shore, with views across the Waitemata Harbour, thriving bush reserves, a bustling shopping village, and it’s just a few minutes’ drive over the Harbour Bridge to the central city. However, like many New Zealand neighbourhoods that border bushland reserves or waterways, there’s a bit of a rat problem. To combat these furry foes, which pose a threat to the native birdlife and insects, there’s a Rat Blitz going on in Birkenhead – and all local households are being encouraged to get involved.

With the assistance of Gecko Trust and Auckland City Council, all homes bordering Le Roys Bush, a complex of reserves in Birkenhead with streams and walkways, have been offered the loan of free bait stations and bait blocks (poisons), as well as advice and support for setting up the traps. About 30 stations have been distributed so far, with more requests coming in. Meanwhile, other homes in Birkenhead can order bait stations at cost price and there are also possum traps available for loan.

To get people’s attention initially, a mail drop was done to 200 homes explaining that that everyone working together would be the most effective way to bring down the rat numbers. Next, a talk was held at the local library and email addresses were collected.

Rat Blitz. Image credit: Supplied

But the Rat Blitz is not a project happening in isolation; in fact, there are several other ongoing, locally-driven initiatives being run in parallel to protect the neighbourhood from unwanted pests and weeds. So who’s behind it all, and why?

Several years ago, an initiative called Beyond the Fence was set up to help protect Le Roys Bush, with regular working bees run by dedicated volunteers and with help from Auckland City Council and the Kaipatiki Restoration Network. The team includes professional biodiversity plant and pest control experts, as well as other volunteers who work with landowners to help them deal with the pests on their properties.

While it must be a hard slog restoring the bush, battling the weeds and trapping pests such as rats, stoats and possums, there are certain perks of the job aside from protecting the wildlife. “Cake is essential,” their website emphasises.

Mary Frankham is a community facilitator for Gecko Trust, which aims to bring people together to protect local nature and wildlife, believes that the social, connected aspect is a vital ingredient for keeping people motivated. Her role is to work with communities, advising on resources and grant applications, and also helping them create and run nature-related projects that they’re passionate about, whether it’s killing weeds, planting native bush or dealing with rats – whatever is getting people fired up.

“Some people might be freaked out by a rat on the roof, or want to be a good neighbour, or they live by the reserves – everyone has different reasons for wanting to get involved,” she explains.

Frankham currently works with the Auckland suburbs of Birkenhead, Muriwai and Bayfield, but each suburb also has its own coordinator to communicate with members, organise new meetups, and manage trap distribution.

Regular nature walks and talks by local wildlife experts are also underway in Birkenhead so locals can learn more about the area they’re protecting. And late last year there was a ‘Wine and Weeds’ meetup where locals could bring in their most annoying weeds for the experts to identify and advise on how to eradicate them.

Ongoing events such as these help to not only bring neighbours together, they also serve to educate people so they can better understand and care for their own neighbourhood. Want to lead the charge in your suburb? Contact Gecko Trust for more information.