Conservation Conversations #3: Stu Barr of Goodnature

Conservation Conversations #3: Stu Barr of Goodnature

We’re nearing the end of Conservation Week in New Zealand, and one of the predominant conversations that has been rising across the social media airwaves this week, is that of moving New Zealand beyond the use of toxic poisons to control predators of native birdlife.

Where once New Zealand forests rang out with birdsong, many are growing too quiet, as introduced predators such as rats, possums and stoats stealthily prey upon species that evolved for millions of years without any threat.

In particular, the use of 1080 poison to control predator populations is a highly contentious issue in New Zealand, with people feeling strongly on both sides. While it’s probably safe to say that no-one is thrilled by the use of substances that are toxic to predators, hunting dogs, aquatic ecosystems and unfortunately sometimes birdlife, there are some who advocate that while it’s not a perfect solution, it’s the only way we can control the problem at scale in time to save threatened species.

Others maintain that the levels of birdlife that can also fall victim to 1080 poisoning — the very birdlife that it’s supposed to be protecting — is at an unacceptable level, and we need to stop using it immediately.

While there are no silver bullets, many individuals and organisations around the country are making good progress in developing technological solutions for detection, deterrence and trapping that can work at scale with minimal human input in the backcountry.

There’s a long way to go, but the problem presents many opportunities for the development of clean-tech conservation products and expertise, that can be tested and incubated in New Zealand, and exported to the world.

In the third and final instalment of our Conservation Conversations, we caught up with Stu Barr earlier this year at New Frontiers, who is the Director of Goodnature, a manufacturer of self-setting traps that are achieving promising outcomes for New Zealand’s wildlife.

So Stu, what does Good Nature do?

We develop conservation technology to increase our ability to enhance our native biodiversity.

What sort of technology are you creating?

We work in the area of pest control. So we make rat, stoat, possum, hedgehog and mouse traps. And the idea of them is by using new technology, we reduce the labour input necessary to take pest populations down to the levels where native species can recover.

Right, so in order for our native bird life recover from these introduced species that have been brought into NZ?

Not that long ago there were not millions, but billions of birds in NZ. With different periods of immigration and native pest species being brought to NZ, some have become extinct, some are nearing extinction and most are pretty well and truly damaged.

But we can turn that around purely by getting rid of those pests that do the damage.

How do your traps work?

We’ve developed a CO2 powered trap, so the logic is to get more than one impact for every human input. So if you think about a traditional trap: you set it, it kills an animal, until you reset it again it can’t kill another animal. So we’ve made a device where multiple animals — up to 24 — will be killed before you have to go back there.

That means for every human effort we’re getting a huge benefit instead of just the one animal removed from the population.
Kiwi. Photo: Dreamstime

Kiwi. Photo: Dreamstime

That seems like a much more efficient system than having people walking through the bush clearing traps.

Yeah, now it’s more like a walk in the park. You just go out and re-lure it, rather than pulling dead animals out and the ugly stuff.

What sort of results are you seeing where you’ve been trialling this technology?

We developed it with the Department of Conservation. Part of their management vision was to partner with us to develop this. And they’ve also then done the trialling to prove that it works. And as an example, we’ve now done seven large scale rat control projects with DOC. And in all of those they’ve reduced rats to the level where they’re undetectable. To put that into perspective, DOC has never achieved that with any other trap before, so the results are even better than we dreamed at this stage of the project. But it’s not the end. It’s only the start.

Stu Barr, Goodnature. Photo: Zipporah Lomax

Stu Barr, Goodnature. Photo: Zipporah Lomax

Are you working with local communities? Involving people around the rural areas you’re working?

Yes, absolutely. There’s a massive shift in NZ, just in the 10 years this company has been around.

Every week there’s a new community group that starts up to do pest control to enhance their local biodiversity.

Although we’re a pest trap manufacturer, really we’re also a conservation organisation. So we provide advice and training, and when we can we go out and help put the traps on the ground. That’s what keeps us happy.

How can people find out how to get involved?

Go to www.goodnature.co.nz — There’s a summary of everything we do on there, there are some cool videos, some descriptions of our products, and a description of our vision and what we’re trying to achieve.

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Conservation Conversations #2: Al Bramley from Zero Invasive Predators

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