Students wild about Waihi have rats running


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Hauraki Herald, Friday December 30, 2005

Students wild about Waihi have rats running

By Paula Trubshaw

There's a large hairy problem on Waihi's Union Hill and year 5 and 6 students from Waihi East School are slowly getting to the tail of it.

Every 10 days for the past four months they've exchanged their pencils for tramping boots and joined Wild about Waihi co-ordinator Andrew Jenks in an effort to eradicate rats and other pests from the hill and restore the native bird and plant life.

Initially the students used trackers (peanut butter placed on a leaf at the end of piece of card with an ink pad in the middle) to determine which creatures were scampering where.

The trackers revealed an assortment of inky prints including those belonging to hedgehogs, wetas, mice and most disturbingly, a booming population of rats. According to Mr Jenks, rats "vacuum clean the environment," and in the absence of an affordable pied piper it's been up to him and the students to hoover up the rogue rodents.

Twenty rat-size bait stations, with three baits per station, have been placed over the north face of Union Hill. These are checked every 10 days.

Unusually, since the project began in August, every time the stations have been checked all the baits have been taken.

Mr Jenks, who has run similar programmes in other areas with other schools, says he's never seen rats so thick; generally after a month or two they start to taper off.

But even after four months the booming rat metropolis on Union Hill shows no sign of quietening.

Each time they head up the hill, Mr Jenks asks the students to stop for a moment and identify the different bird calls, "if the birds come back it means the insects have probably come back. If the insect and bird life is restored there is more plant life."

Before construction of the Victoria Battery in Waikino, the main battery for the Martha mine was at Union Hill.

Six large cyanide tanks built around 1887 still stand among the scrub and trees, along with roasting kilns, various shafts, and other ruins.

Mr Jenks, who was a secondary teacher before becoming involved with Wild about New Zealand, says it's been good to incorporate the history of the area into the project.

"Parents have come along and have their own stories to tell about life in Waihi," he says.

"It's really very heartening. Waihi kids are generally a lot fitter than other kids, and never complain about going up hills, they're quite outdoors focused."

The students have fully embraced the programme which has overflowed into the classroom; Isaac Roche and Cole Mueggenburg have created their own power point display, and the school is putting together a website following the project's progress.

The programme will continue over the school holidays into next year and volunteers are needed to help while the students are away.

"It's a pleasant walk and it takes about an hour to put the 60 baits in 20 bait stations."

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