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Summary of Community Survey March 2020

A summary of research among the residents and landowners of northern Aotea to measure and understand their support for a project to reduce feral cats and rats in order to restore the biodiversity of the area.

Background Objectives

Tū Mai Taonga is a collaborative project which aims to restore biodiversity in the Aotea Conservation Park and northern part of Great Barrier Island by combining the effort and resources of many groups for a shared purpose. Tū Mai Taonga hopes to reduce feral cats to zero or very low numbers and explore ways to reduce rats to low densities.

Community support is critical to the sustainability of this Kaupapa. Information sharing and research on attitudes and values were the first steps. The project objectives were to:

1. Share information with residents and landowners about the project.

2. Identify the information needs of community members.

3. Measure support for the goals of the project and the factors that influence that support.

4. Understand the community’s needs and drivers of support, to inform future planning, communications, and community engagement.

5. Gather any other feedback from residents and landowners about the project.

Approach and method

The two sources of information used to identify potential participants were the Auckland Council rates database (landowners) and the 2018 Census (residents). The 2018 Census data reported a resident population count of 153 people, and 117 occupied private dwellings.

Potential respondents were contacted directly by letter. Further attempts were made to inform people by posting information at the local Auckland Council Service Centre in Claris, the Department of Conservation at Okiwi, Kawa marae, Motairehe marae, community noticeboards throughout the area, Aotea FM, and articles in the Barrier Bulletin. The project team members also met marae trustees, hapu members and whanau. However, we were unable to contact or include the many multiple shareholders of Maori land blocks. Nevertheless, this effort resulted in engagement with 85 out of an estimated 117 resident and landowner households, which is approximately 75% of the target population.

The majority of the 10 minute surveys were completed by prearranged face to face appointments and conducted by two trained local interviewers. A minority of surveys were completed by phone and by post, where the respondent preferred this.

Perceptions of Feral Cats and Rats: damaging wildlife

Residents and landowners both understand and are concerned about the impact that feral cats and rats have on the biodiversity of Aotea. This includes knowledge that both pests are known to impact bird life in particular, with rats also thought to hasten forest destruction by eating seedlings. Several believe feral cats have a role in keeping the rat and rabbit populations lower than they would be otherwise.

Support for Tū Mai Taonga’s Goals for Feral Cats and Rats is high

Respondents were sent a booklet about the project’s goals and the reason behind them prior to the interview. Only one person in the sample of 85 did not support the stated objective to restore and protect native species and ecosystems in the Aotea Conservation Park and Northern Aotea. People support this because they want to see the native bush and wildlife to come back, and they want to repair the damage we have done for the benefit of future generations. Around 1 in 8 people said they are already working to control cats and rats on their property. People commented that there needed to be community buy-in for the project for it to be successful.

There is 96% support for reducing feral cats to zero and 100% support for reducing rats to low densities. Support for reducing feral cats is slightly lower because some believe that they help to control other pests – particularly rats, but also rabbits. Some of those giving lower support want more information: they need to be convinced that this is really the right thing to do. Others like cats. Around 6 in 10 people are already working to control feral cats on their properties and all are working to control rats.

The only concerns expressed regarding reducing the rat population, are the difficulty of the task, and issues with how it will be done (some concerns about poisons).

Conclusions and recommendations

• Almost everyone who participated is very supportive of Tū Mai Taonga’s goals.

• People’s biggest concern is that the project may not be able to deliver. A keycommunication and project goal must be to demonstrate that the project is achievable and will be adequately resourced over time.

• The use of poisons for pest control will be resisted by some. Detailed, accurate information on these tools must be provided if they are to be considered as options.

• The community wants to be involved. Many want to know the details – the specifics of how it will be done, and they want to be kept informed on an ongoing basis.

• Consultation with iwi, hapu and whanau will need to follow appropriate processes following feasibility work.

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