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From Power Cranes To Environment

Lennie Williams is in charge of pest eradication on eleven small islands off the coast of Coromandel township and four ‘rock stacks’ (mini islands of piled rocks). These islands are Lennie’s mission, one that he began just a short while ago.
 |  Pauline Stewart  | 

In addition to his team, there are two second-year botany students recruited by Paddy Stewart of Sound Counts who has assisted Lennie with providing devices which help them identify what bird and bush life there is and to keep track of the volume of pests. There is a colony of gannets all year round,” says Lennie. They are on Gannet Rock, Double Island and Bush Island.”

Lennie’s mission is to get rid of the rats and other rodents. “We have divided the job into three zones. We could never have done it by attacking the task all at once.”

 It is the Norway rats that are the real pest for Lennie and a great danger to the bird life. The team is using 20 AT battery-powered traps and some bait stations but avoid aerial drops. “The number of rats was very high when we started off – an unbelievable number. The Norway rats are huge; some can be 500mm nose to tail. Three of the islands comprise zone one. When we started, we had 20 deaths a day and now we are down to one per day on most of the islands. We take specially trained dogs who know the scent and track the rats and lead us to them for placing the traps.”

 We asked Lennie how this all started as a mission for him.

 “I was over on a long holiday from Australia visiting family. I have a small family and I was thinking about what I might do in retirement. I happened to go to an AGM where they were recruiting new trustees for the Te Patukirikiri Iwi Trust. Actually some had passed away. Before I knew it, my Aunty had put forward my name and had it seconded. I was now a Trustee.

 So, I went to the first meeting of the Trust following the AGM and realised my brother had already started negotiations with Forest and Bird to commence pest eradication.

I thought I better follow up on this and we did. After 15 months, our project began.”

 “I came from driving huge power cranes in Australia to becoming an environmentalist and I am on the water every day,” smiles Lennie.

“In all of this, Nick Kelly from DOC has been an amazing help. He has communicated our message and enabled us to cut through a lot of red tape and assisted us in obtaining the funding we have needed.

It is a slim operation and it will remain that way for the next two zones. We don’t have a Project Manager or Supervisor and we don’t need one. It is me and the boys and we all work, write our reports and do our research. We can’t afford to specialise and leave things undone.”

The funding is a concern for Lennie as their applications, though comprehensive, seem to be in a long line of funding requests. “This matter of the pests has been under the radar and out of sight and I think funding tends to go to the same causes though a situation can change,” says Lenny.

 “We need funding to complete this three-year, three-zone project. After that it can be maintained as pest -free, though one can never totally eliminate the rats – a situation can be maintained.

“Health and Safety has to be stringent. It is difficult to have volunteers. The slopes are very steep with vertical valleys and sometimes slips.  Access is quite inhospitable in parts. Our boat is restricted to carry no more than six people. At the commencement of zone one eradication, we needed six full-time people but with the numbers diminishing, we can manage with three people.”

 Lennie says he and his staff have gained a great deal of experience on the water. “Our staff are trained in water safety and have gained their SRL marine ticket so they can operate the boat. They also are Health and Safety NZQA certified. We must not waste all this experience.

“What has been very exciting is that we found the calcified skeleton of a tuatara – complete. This means they have been here before us and all these pests, and my hope is that one day they can be returned.” Lennie Williams is a practical leader and inspired to complete this significant project.

 

Contact Lennie.  Email – admin@patukirikiri.iwi.nz