Forest & Bird honours Tikitapu pestbusters

Frances and James Blakely and the volunteers of the Tikitapu Forest & Bird Care Group near Rotorua have won Forest & Bird's Pestbuster award for controlling pest animals.

The award, announced on World Environment Day, is made each year to honour pest control projects run or led by Forest & Bird branches. The Blakelys and other volunteers from the Rotorua branch of Forest & Bird and the community have been doing pest control work for more than a decade to help restore the health of the Tikitapu Reserve on the edge of Lake Tikitapu, or Blue Lake.

Starting in 2001, the project had the initial aim of saving the fast-dwindling native mistletoe in the reserve and it has also boosted regrowth of the rest of the forest and the numbers of birds such as tui, bellbirds, grey warblers, kereru and tomtits.

“The bush is looking much healthier and there has been lots of regrowth that was not there before,” says Frances Blakely. “We received a letter from someone who has lived here for many years and she congratulated us, saying she hears an amazing dawn chorus that was not here before.”

From small beginnings, the project has grown to cover an area of about 150 hectares with 153 bait stations to control mainly rats and possums. 

The care group has been supported by the Department of Conservation and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, along with the community and the Rotorua Botanical Society, which has removed weeds and planted natives in the reserve.  

The baiting is done in the spring months when birds are nesting and possum numbers are starting to build up again.  Monitoring suggests a sharp decline in possum numbers in recent years, though rat numbers tend to build up again in the months between baiting operations.

But the baiting has a huge impact on rat numbers during the months that birds, their eggs and young chicks are most vulnerable. In 2010, no rats were detected in tracking stations after the baiting operation and in 2009 and 2011 only two percent of the tracking stations showed signs of rats.

Frances Blakely took over as coordinator of the care group in 2004 and since then her involvement has grown, along with that of her husband James. She is responsible for coordinating the volunteer team, made up of a hard core of about 20 people, as well as the large amount of administration involved in using animal pest control chemicals in a public reserve and coordination with DOC and the regional council. 

James Blakely undertakes a lot of work on the ground, such as bait line maintenance and preparation for bait laying, and he checks and records the bait take and possums killed, as well as giving general support to Frances.

Forest & Bird’s Rotorua branch has set up two walking tracks in the reserve to allow the public to make the most of the regenerating bush. Frances Blakely says the project has been very satisfying to be involved in.  

“I have met very interesting people through this project but the most satisfying thing of all has been seeing the bush recover,” she says.

This is the fifth year Forest & Bird has made the Pestbuster award.