Thursday, 31 October 2013

Throwing Hedgehogs to the Wind

I recently had a lot of fun writing a piece to enter in a writing competition run by the local Forest and Bird branch. The brief was to write about local projects or reserves. I thought about my most recent memorable experience and realised I'd been involved in some quirky projects and even the more standard projects often had a quirky side to them. I was delighted when the judges picked my entry as the overall winner.

Here's my story:

Throwing Hedgehogs to the Wind

I’ve learned a thing or two from taking part in local conservation projects. “Don’t throw a dead, maggotty hedgehog into the prevailing wind” is the latest piece of wisdom I’d like to pass on from my trap monitoring experiences.  

You might wonder why someone squeamish about flying maggots would take on monitoring traps. On the day I learned this lesson, I wondered that myself. But the truth is that I like a challenge and love to learn new skills. Early on in my conservation volunteering career I learned how to plant and pukeko-proof trees. I learned that children on a nature walk in any group larger than two will not stay together in the same place for more than a minute. And I learned that no matter how much plastic you pick up from the beach, there will sadly be more the next day.

More recently, I’ve tackled some new challenges. At Maara Roa in Cannons Creek I’ve learned to identify trees, harvest seeds and turn them into clay seed balls. I’ve learned that unlike disposing of dead animals, it’s fun to send seed balls rocketing away into gorse-covered areas via tennis racket. I’ve led groups of Forest and Bird trampers into places like the Wainuiomata water catchment area (and yes it rained hard the whole time, as it should in a water catchment) and the Maungakotukutuku forest where I managed to mislay a few fellow trampers. I’ve learned to fall gracefully on muddy slopes and spectacularly into shallow streams and that people use walking sticks for good reason.

I admire the people who drive our local conservation projects, their vision and ability to get people doing the most humdrum of tasks such as cutting milk cartons down to make plant pots. I admire the people prepared to take on the regular grind of managing nurseries or monitoring traps. So when the notice came out from Friends of Mana Island for volunteers to monitor traps just a short walk from my house in Pukerua Bay, I leaped at the challenge. I learned why we were trapping - to protect the native skinks and geckos, especially the rare Whitaker’s Skink. I learned how to open a trap safely and I successfully removed my first dead stoat.

And now I’ve learned to get over the cuteness of hedgehogs - they have voracious appetites and they love to eat our native skinks. Which is how I ended up on a windy cliff, throwing a dead hedgehog into the wind.

A note about hedgehogs: I was in England recently and learned how people there are keen to make their gardens 'hedgehog friendly' in the same way that New Zealanders want to make our gardens 'skink and gecko friendly'. In England, hedgehogs are a natural part of the ecosystem and have, sadly for them, become less common there. In New Zealand, hedgehogs were introduced by European settlers and they are a threat to native ground-nesting birds, invertebrates and reptiles. For more on Hedgehogs read what the Department of Conservation has to say about them. You can also read about hedgehogs in In the Garden.