UBCO helps Taranaki protect its natural heritage



A council-backed project in Taranaki, New Zealand, aims to safeguard the area’s unique biodiversity by removing introduced predator species — and UBCO is helping its in-the-field team cover more ground faster and more efficiently.

Towards Predator-Free Taranaki launched in 2018 as part of a national mission to rid New Zealand of predators by 2050. Currently, it targets possums, rats and mustelids like stoats, weasels and ferrets — all introduced species that have had a deleterious effect on native birds and wildlife.

“The overall goal of our project is to protect and restore our unique biodiversity by removing these introduced predators,” says Taranaki Regional Council’s programme leader, Nick Heslop. “We’re seeing some really encouraging results so far, with an increase in native birds and the return of species not seen in Taranaki in many years — for example the recent return of kiwi to the Kaitake Range.”

The project consists of three interrelated parts. In the urban component, thousands of everyday people and volunteers set and maintain traps in public parks, walkways and their own backyards. In the rural project, the council works with farmers to establish mustelid traps on their land.
The most ambitious part, however, is the Zero Possum project, which aims to eradicate possums completely from almost 10,000 hectares of bush and farmland between the Oākura River and Hangatahua (Stony) River.
“The three aspects are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with a lot of overlap,” says Heslop.
Having recently extended its area of coverage to properties that previously had little or no possum control, the Zero Possum crew had their work cut out for them, as it involves painstakingly working across private land using a possum-detection dog and setting traps.
“Our team is out there every day on farmland and in forests checking traps, so we were looking for ways to make the job more efficient,” says Heslop. “We can get further into the bush than we could with quad bikes — before we started using the UBCOs, we had to cover a lot more of the distance on foot. So, we immediately found that the bikes were saving us a lot of valuable time, and physical effort.”
The work often also takes place in challenging conditions, as the team works year-round on dairy farms, lifestyle blocks, and rugged forested areas that are logistically difficult to access.
“Compared with quad bikes, the UBCO bikes are light, manoeuvrable and easy to handle — all of our team members, regardless of their size or strength, are able to operate them safely and with confidence,” says Heslop. “It’s certainly not uncommon to get stuck in mud on rough farm tracks in the middle of a Taranaki winter, and it’s a lot easier to pull out an UBCO by yourself than a quad bike!”
While the electric bikes are part of Taranaki Regional Council’s move towards a more sustainable transport fleet overall, their users have discovered they also offer additional benefits. For example, the bikes are quiet enough that they don’t disturb farm animals, which is particularly important during calving season.
The low weight and portability of UBCO bikes is another oft-cited advantage. They are easy to load onto a trailer and move between sites, which is crucial as the coverage area is large and they are constantly in demand on various properties.
“In the first six months of our coverage extension, we’ve already caught more than 2,000 possums,” says Heslop. “In general, we’ve found the bikes to be sustainable, practical and efficient. They’re proving to be a valuable tool as we work towards our mission of restoring Taranaki’s unique and precious biodiversity.”

For more details: Towards Predator Free Taranaki