Speech for Predator Free 2050 Conference

Introduction

E ngā mana

E ngā reo

E ngā iwi

Tēnā koutou katoa

 

Ka huri ki ngā mana whenua o te rohe nei. Tēnā koutou

He mihi hoki ki a tatou kua tau mai nei i raro i te kaupapa o te rā

Ko Ayesha Verrall toku ingoa

No reira tēnā koutou katoa

It’s fantastic to be able to welcome you all to the Predator Free 2050 Summit, marking five years since the journey towards what can best be described as a world-first goal, began.

I know my colleague Kiri Allan had been looking forward to being here today, and I’m sure you were looking forward to seeing and hearing from her. I know we are all wishing her a speedy recovery.

From the beginning

It’s wonderful to see so many people here today; including you Dame Juliet – and congratulations on your reappointment – all committed to achieving the predator free goal that was once described by Sir Paul Callaghan as the equivalent of our ‘Moonshot’.

It’s a great analogy because, like reaching the moon, reaching that 2050 goal requires single-minded vision, widespread public support, collaboration, significant resource, the best minds, meticulous planning and great courage.

Today is a celebration of the steps we’ve already taken on this journey and an opportunity to reflect on what’s been achieved, what we’re learning and the opportunities and challenges to be met before we reach the point where we can say “The eagle has landed”, as Neil Armstrong did on that historic day.

Still, I think Sir Paul would have been proud of the substantial headway we’ve already made, which we can see in the five-year Predator Free 2050 progress report released here today.

 Progress

It shows significant progress towards the seven interim goals set in the Predator Free 2050 national strategy; important steps contributing to the achievement of the five-year goals and the objectives in Te Mana o te Taiao – Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.

The Government has shown its support by investing over $300 million on Predator Free initiatives in the last five years. Most recently this has included $144.2m under its Jobs For Nature programme to Predator Free 2050 Ltd, Predator Free New Zealand Trust and large iwi-led predator control projects, in addition to another 106 other Jobs for Nature-funded projects that include predator control work in their programmes.

Together, these resources are being used to support large scale predator control programmes to protect populations of native species; experimental projects to develop new tools and methods of detecting and eradicating target predators and defending large landscapes from reinvasion; providing jobs and training to hundreds of people around Aotearoa New Zealand and to engage Kiwis up and down the country, in the goal to become Predator Free.

And speaking of engaging, a fortnight ago I helped my 7-year-old daughter sign up for Predator Free Wellington, captivated by the dream of having kiwi on our doorstep as well as our regular kaka and kereru visitors from nearby Karori.

Achievements

There are 19 landscape scale predator eradication projects underway across the country, and we are making good progress towards being able to remove predators from large mainland areas and keep them out without the use of fences.

The area where predators are suppressed to protect our native wildlife and forests has increased substantially in the past five years and already exceeds our 2025 target of an additional million hectares.  This has been through a combination of an increase on the hectares of sustained control for possums by DOC and Predator Free 250 Ltd projects – making a total increase of 1,083,767 hectares.

However this doesn’t include the control work in areas under sustained control by DOC for other predator species, or predator control undertaken by others such as OSPRI, local government or community groups, so the total increase is likely to be considerably larger.

We’re already seeing the impact of this increased coverage. Additional funding provided by the Government has enabled DOC’s national predator control programme Tiakina Ngā Manu to massively increase coverage of Kahurangi National Park resulting in a significant growth in whio numbers in the park. Just one pair was found across 10km of waterway when the project started in 2003. Eighteen years on and that has climbed to 79 pairs, surpassing the targeted 50 pairs. 

Iwi support

Whānau, hapū and iwi have a key role in designing and delivering predator management projects in their rohe: The Korehāhā Whakahau project of Ngāti Awa, aims to remove possums over five years from 4,700 ha bordered by the Whakatāne River, Ohope Beach and Ohiwa Harbour. It will eventually provide jobs for up to 30 whānau and protect the North Island Brown Kiwi. As well as using the latest predator detection and trapping techniques, the project will also apply mātauranga, emphasising cultural as well as biodiversity values.

While this is the first iwi-led eradication project to be funded under the banner of Predator Free 2050, projects in the Raukumara Forest with Te Whānau a Apanui and Ngāti Porou, and Te Urewera with Tūhoe are also getting underway.

Communities

With the support of the Predator Free New Zealand Trust, local councils, DOC, NEXT Foundation, Predator Free 2050 Limited and community champions, neighbourhood trapping groups have gone from strength to strength. The simple idea behind Predator Free 2050 resonates with many New Zealanders and Predator Free communities are springing up in their thousands throughout the country.

Through backyard and community trapping people are being rewarded by finding new connections within their communities and the feeling that they’re making a tangible difference in a world where global environmental issues frequently seem too big to overcome.

Importantly, groups like Predator Free Wellington and Capital Kiwi are getting closer to their eradication goals and Predator Free initiatives in Auckland and Dunedin are reporting great results.

Coupled with the success of Zealandia, bird populations are spilling outside of the urban sanctuary into surrounding neighbourhoods and surviving in no small part to community predator control efforts.

Kākā and karearea are not uncommon sights in Wellington’s CBD nowadays.

Science and research

The science community has ramped up collaboration in research to improve the cost, speed, and scale of predator eradications, and continues to strive for ‘break through’ technology.

DOC’s Tools to Market programme with $5.6 million government funding, is supporting the research sector and innovators like Dr Michael Jackson of Canterbury University. Dr Jackson has been leading a project to develop long-life lures that are effective for 6 to 12 months - a game changer for trapping and predator detection - with the rat lure soon to enter the market.

Using government funding, Predator Free 2050 Ltd is also supporting R&D in Kiwi businesses to develop new generation tools, including NZ Autotraps’ AT 220 – a self-resetting rat and possum trap now in production in a new factory in Whakatāne.

The team at Zero Invasive Predators, or ZIP, have been trialling innovative ways to detect, remove and defend large landscapes for a few years now, having successfully removed 17,000 possums from the Perth Valley.

Trail cameras in the Perth Valley are now showing large numbers of young kea in the area – a good sign because kea chick survival depends upon low or no predators in the area.

ZIP’s hard work and ingenuity is being rewarded with support for a five-year $45 million collaborative project, Predator Free South Westland, which aims to eliminate predators around Whataroa, Okāritō and Franz Josef. Success there will be achieved through ‘boots on the ground’ labour through the Jobs for Nature scheme, providing 50 jobs over the five years, combined with ZIP’s ever-refining innovative trapping, baiting and detection techniques.

Working together

I’m excited and encouraged by the momentum that has built across the Predator Free programme and the way New Zealanders have rallied and got stuck in to work towards this goal. Like defeating COVID success depends on community mobilisation.

Collaboration is key: Reaching our Predator Free 2050 goal will only be achieved through government agencies, communities, whānau, hapū and iwi, businesses, philanthropic groups, farmers, scientists and non-government organisations, all working together on a scale larger than we have seen before.

The Predator Free 2050 national strategy, launched in 2020, will play a key role in guiding the way forward using a collaborative process to align investment in research and predator free projects.

As in the natural world, Predator Free 2050 won’t achieve its aspirations to protect and restore te taiao on its own. It relies on interconnections with other work going on in the marine and coastal environments, work on freshwater and restoration and recovery of native habitat and species populations. For example, the Government’s support of local iwi and stakeholders involved with the Sea Change Project to restore marine biodiversity in the Hauraki Gulf.

And of course, conservation is about people and communities: Iwi, hapū, whānau, urban and rural, on our oceans, in corporate offices and, indeed, Parliament - doing the mahi.

Protecting Biodiversity

In August last year, the Government launched Te Mana o te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020. It sets the overarching strategic direction and guidance for the protection, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity for the next 30 years and acts as a ‘canopy’ strategy, providing overarching direction for related strategies and work programmes, such as Predator Free 2050.

It contains three strategic priorities Tūāpapa – Getting the system right, Whakahau – Empowering Action and Tiaki me te Whakahaumanu – Protecting and restoring.

Te Mana o te Taiao will be implemented nationally, regionally, and locally and, for many people, Predator Free 2050 will provide the opportunity to play their part in the wider picture. It will highlight the critical role ridding our lands of introduced predators plays in helping to advance biodiversity gains for other work.

Our native species are a part of our national and cultural identity and we all have a role in protecting and enhancing what we have for generations to follow.

Concluding remarks

We underestimate the size of the task that still lies ahead at our peril. It is huge. But the success you have already achieved, the strategic guidance now in place and the continued commitment – and passion - of the people here and in communities across the country, shows that we have lift-off and are on the right trajectory towards our lofty goal.

Ngā mihi nui. Tēnā koutou.