The one thing that has struck me about environmental science and conservation since being at Rotokare is how labour intensive it is. Traps and tracking tunnels in thick bush need to be checked/ rebaited regularly. Data needs to be entered and GPS points plotted, by walking to each site ( often very steep and no vehicle access!), among much other research and maintenance. And this all has to be done by real life people! With an area of 230 hectares, this is no small feat. Without volunteers, places like Rotokare Reserve would cease to exist.
Jenny is one of the wonderful volunteers who give up their time to work at Rotokare. Prior to her Rotokare life, Jenny was a dairy farmer in Taranaki. She has been volunteering at Rotokare for about 6 years and enjoys the chance to keep fit, be in the bush and give back to the community. Jenny is very knowledgeable about the bush and birds. When we went out for Wednesday fence checks, she was very patient in teaching me how to check and set the traps, and log any irregularities that we saw along the way.
Before I started at Rotokare, I'll admit, I'd never actually set a mouse/ rat trap, although I had watched my husband get his fingers snapped on multiple occasions. Around the undulating 8kms of fence line, there are mouse, rat and stoat traps at regular intervals, based on the habitat range of the targeted species. They are baited with peanut butter which attracts pests due to its strong smell. In order to be humane, the holes in the trap boxes are made just big enough for the targeted species to enter, so that the trap will kill any pests immediately (if something bigger than the trap was intended for got in, the pest may not be killed). This also aims to prevents birds etc entering the traps. The stoat traps are much bigger, and as Jenny kindly demonstrated with a stick, are rather unforgiving when set off. These are baited with eggs. I still haven't quite mustered the courage to set these after the stick demonstration.
Last Wednesday, being rather wet and blustery, I thought it would probably be an inside day. But no, the work doesn't stop. All the fence line traps still need to be checked and rebaited, and the fence checked for damage or holes. We also ventured to the 'Outside Bush' an area of the sanctuary that has not been fenced. The outside bush definitely looks and feels different to the inside bush. While the inside bush is lush and the forest floor is covered in regenerating seedlings, the outside bush is more sparse, and birdsong more infrequent. On the inside, there hasn't been evidence of even a mouse for about a year, while pests are regularly tracked and caught in the outside bush. I guess this is great proof that the fence is doing it's job.
We smelled the 2 possums in the traps in the outside bush long before we saw them. While I was nearly retching in the distance, Jenny bravely remove the possums and reset the traps. I'm still working on the whole harding-up thing, but I think I've come a long way already!