Will Howick be Auckland’s first pest free suburb?

Farm Cove Intermediate School has taken the lead in getting rats to leave town.

They are not playing the Piped Piper of Hamelin but are thrilled they have the tools to get the rats out of here!

Having received a $3000 grant from Howick Local Board that enables them to purchase 170 re-usable rat traps, the intermediate school is keen to make Howick and Pakuranga, Auckland’s first rat free suburb.

Specialist science teacher Lynn Dunbar applied for the grant because she thinks a cluster of school science classes could make a real difference.

Farm Cove Intermediate student Willem Hewitson with a rat trap.

“We had 120 people, including groups like scouts, at a community meeting and now we have five schools ready to go with their  tunnels and traps,” she says.

The five schools include Wakaaranga School, Farm Cove Intermediate, Bucklands Beach Intermediate, Pigeon Mountain Primary School  and Macleans College.

“We’ll start with ridding schools and private homes/backyards and then move onto reserves and parks. The idea is to clear an area and move outwards,” she says.

But, there’s more to this than just trapping rats.

“We want to send the rats packing, but we’re also engaging our children in authentic learning which dovetails into the improving biodiversity section of the science curriculum,” says Ms Dunbar.

“Howick is an ideal test-ground because it’s on a peninsula and by uploading results into CatchIT, a pest control database at the University of Auckland we’ll track how well the programme is doing.”

Howick Local Board’s environmental services work programme lead, John Spiller says the project fits well with the Local Board’s plan for a treasured local environment preserved for future generations.

“Part of what we want to do is to increase opportunities to partner with schools, community groups and local business on environmental programmes such as tree planting and weed and pest eradication so it’s great to see Farm Cove Intermediate and other schools taking the initiative,” he says.

In the days of the former Howick Borough Council, pre 1989, an annual ‘All Rats Must Die by the End of July’ programme was run for a number of years and council provided free rat bait to residents who applied.

Locals clearly remember the bright yellow billboard announcing it on Stockade Hill in the month of July.

“Poison has the potential to ‘knock down’ a higher number of rats than by trapping individual animals however there are more risks associated with the use of poison,” says Mr Spiller.

“Among these are the effect on non-target species, accidental human poisoning of children should they access the bait and even detrimental effects on the users should they not take all the necessary precautions in handling the poison bait. Health & Safety requirements these days would probably preclude council handing out free bait, even if it was affordable, in large volumes.”

Rats and mice are prolific breeders and it’s well known that a pair of either species can produce up to 2000 offspring downline in a single breeding season, he says.

“The Pestival project is a wonderful initiative and will give a solid start in the war against rats and mice however there will always be a need for on-going trapping, and baiting programmes by council in a given area, to keep the rodent populations under control.”

“The efforts by the schools are a great example of how local communities can help deliver Auckland Council’s Pest Free Auckland by 2050 strategy.

The council’s sustainable schools advisor Cate Jessep says that students, teachers and principals are motivated by imagining how many endemic birds from nearby pest free Islands in Hauraki Gulf will be visiting Howick schools, backyards, parks and reserves.

More Enviroschools including Sunny Hills, Cockle Bay, Pakuranga Intermediate, Botany Downs Secondary College and St Kentigern College want to start trapping rats in term three.

“If this interest continues over the next two years, culminating in students from all 43 East Auckland schools being involved in the pilot–and they encouraged five other households in their street to trap rats too–could Howick become Auckland’s first pest free suburb?”