There are similarities and differences in the why and how of predator control in Britain and New Zealand and understanding these shows some interesting differences.
The English gamekeeper and the New Zealand predator manager share several similarities but also have several important differences. Both target population control at rodents and mustelids and both do this to benefit populations of birds.
In New Zealand habitats, predator managers target rodents and mustelids that are invasive mammals who are predators of native wildlife. In the English countryside gamekeepers target rodents and mustelids that are native mammals who are predators of native wildlife.
The first important, and obvious difference is the status of the predators. The second important difference is that in the UK the bird populations that are the benefactors of this predator control are game species that are managed as a hunting resource and form part of the economic equation of British landuse.
Whereas there are obvious differences in why the English gamekeeper controls predators, compared with the New Zealand predator manager, it is the differences in how the English gamekeeper controls predators, compared with the New Zealand predator manager, that is particularly interesting.
In the British Midlands, Ian Lanchester has, for the past 20 years, been the gamekeeper on Castle Hayes Farm in rural Staffordshire near the village of Tutbury midway between Birmingham and Nottingham. This farm is a large dairy farm that is leased from the Duchy of Lancaster and on the 27th of November 1944 it was a witness to history when an underground munitions depot at RAF Fauld accidentally exploded in one of the world's largest non-nuclear explosions. This killed at least 70 people and obliterated the neighbouring farm to form the Hanbury Crater.
Within this manmade, and highly modified landscape of hedgerows, woodlots and explosion craters Ian skilfully sets predator traps at critical points to capitalise on the prey searching behaviour of the predators he pursues and in doing so he mimics naturalistic features in which to conceal his traps. For example, at a gateway along the farm race Ian knows that a stoat searching the hedgerow for prey will not want to be caught out in the open so must dash across the gateway to the adjacent hedgerow for cover.
At the obvious crossing point Ian has constructed a convenient jumble of bricks covered with a slab of broken concrete where the stoat can shelter to catch its breath before continuing to search for prey. However this shelter is booby trapped with steel jaws and on the day of our visit there was one less stoat preying on the wildlife of Castle Hayes Farm.
Similarly, the New Zealand predator manager sets traps for rats and stoats and to protect non-target species these are concealed inside constructed enclosures. However, in contrast to a British predator trapping station these are often neither particularly naturalistic nor set at critical points to intersect predators as they search the environment for prey.
Both mustelids and rodents are neophobic with a healthy suspicion of unfamiliar objects they encounter on their travels and some individuals are known to never interact with predator control devices. Putting aside why the English gamekeeper traps predators and emulating how he traps predators with devices concealed in the landscape rather than being set on the landscape may be a critical difference that holds a lesson for the New Zealand predator manager.
What's in a Name?
The familiar saying "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" warns about the risks that come with trying to achieve more by challenging the status quo.