This piece was originally published in the Greymouth Star, on Friday 14 June 2019.

Over the past few weeks some of the activities of the research and development organisation Zero Invasive Predators Ltd (ZIP) have featured in articles and letters to the editor in the Greymouth Star and Hokitika Guardian. Here, ZIP Chief Executive Al Bramley provides an insight into the organisation and its work to protect our natural environment by completely removing introduced predators.

A member of the ZIP team in the remote and spectacular Perth River valley, where ZIP is developing new methods to completely remove introduced predators and protect the natural environment.

A member of the ZIP team in the remote and spectacular Perth River valley, where ZIP is developing new methods to completely remove introduced predators and protect the natural environment.

ZIP was established by the Department of Conservation and the philanthropic NEXT Foundation in 2015. Our mission is to develop tools and techniques that completely remove possums, rats and stoats from mainland New Zealand and prevent them from re-establishing. What we learn along the way will help communities throughout New Zealand restore native biodiversity and reduce the economic impacts of these introduced predators.

Some commentators have observed that this is huge task – and we agree! But, by building on what has been learned from the past efforts of others, and drawing on the advice and skills of a wide range of people, along with new advances in technology, we are making progress.

We’re a small team of field rangers, engineers, scientists and support staff. Our team members range in age from the early 20s to the late 50s, and live in Wellington, the Marlborough Sounds, Christchurch and the West Coast. Many of us have worked closely with native wildlife, including kiwi, kakapo, takahe and kea, and have experienced first-hand the devastating impact that introduced predators have on these, and other, treasured native species. What gets us out of bed in the morning is the opportunity we now have to help bring an end to the destruction of our wild ecosystems at the teeth and claws of possums, rats and stoats. We want to leave our natural environment in a better state for our children.

Like many people, we also would like to see New Zealand reach a stage where it is no longer necessary to kill introduced predators on an ongoing basis, in order to protect our environment.

Our work is funded by our founders and other supporters – it’s a mix of public funding and private contributions by generous New Zealanders who wish to leave a legacy of environmental excellence for all New Zealanders. The funding is pooled and used to support a range of projects, at the Perth River valley site and elsewhere.

ZIP is a registered charity, with no commercial or profit motive. Any revenue we generate is required to be reinvested back into our programme of work – it’s not paid as a dividend to DOC or the NEXT Foundation (or to me or to my team). Our charitable status also means that we are able to make the products we develop – such as our possum trap system and automated lure dispenser – as cheap as possible, because we do not have to recoup the costs of developing them.

We try to meet with people who have a significant interest in our work, to seek their advice and share results. In the case of the Perth River valley work, we’ve benefitted from ongoing conversations with Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio, Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu, Westland Regional Council, West Coast District Council, West Coast Conservation Board, New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, Game Animal Council, Federated Mountain Clubs, Forest and Bird, Development West Coast, and Federated Farmers.

We also try to provide regular updates and findings on our website about our activities and what we’ve learned, and to respond promptly to inquiries (although admittedly not as promptly as we’d like to, at times!)

I also want to acknowledge the concerns that some people have about some of the research and development projects we are undertaking in the Perth River valley. This article is not the place to address those concerns in detail.

However, some readers might be interested to know that if we are successful in developing cost-effective tools and techniques to completely remove possums, rats and stoats from the Perth River valley, and can prevent these predators from re-establishing, then it will not be necessary to continue to use aerial 1080 there at the landscape scale. I suspect such a result that would be welcomed by many people. Importantly, it would mean that the unique wildlife of the Perth River valley will have been maintained and restored, for West Coasters and visitors to appreciate and enjoy.

Of course, the nature of research and development means that we cannot guarantee this result. But, with the support of others, we’re giving it our best shot – and we will continue to share what we are learning as the work progresses.