The 10 most WANTED – New Zealand’s conservation wishlist

By - Wayne Linklater 14/05/2013

We are good at killing pests. We are winning battles on offshore islands or temporarily holding the front on the mainland, but we are not winning the war on pests… yet.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation want new tools, better tactics and grander strategy for the protection and security of our nation’s biodiversity. And they got them at the Pest Summit.

If you could put financial limits, logistic constraints aside what would you do to win the war on pests? In what ideas would you invest your research dollar to rapidly transform the war against pests in our favour?

This is the wishlist of 50 New Zealand scientists from the Pest Summit:

1. Larger scale pest management – existing tools applied on a massive spatial scale, necessarily requiring greater cooperation of communities.

2. Internationalise – facilitate and coordinate international contributions to solving our pest problem.

3. A dedicated pest agency – to achieve a nationwide coordinated, strategic and socio-politically efficient pest control program unconstrained by land ownership and tenure.

* Illustrations created by Mary Brake, Reflection Graphics, for the Department of Conservation’s Pest Summit December 2012.

4. Advanced pest surveillance, detection and monitoring tools – the application and deployment of highly sensitive, remotely operated, independent, and low maintenance technologies.

5. Improved killing devices – to radically cut pest control costs and ramp-up operational efficiency towards greater certainty and scales of success, i.e., eradication.

6. Social science – effecting attitudinal and behavioural change in citizens about pest and pest management.

7. Super-lures – chemicals so powerfully attractive to pests that they massively increase the vulnerability of pests to traps, especially when they are at low and invading densities.

8. Conservation behaviour – advances in our ability to manipulate pest animal behaviour.

9. Biological control agents – genetic manipulations of pests, or their parasites, so that pest populations self-destruct.

10. Mass mobilisation – harness the power of citizens and faciltiate their networking towards the single popular objective – pest-free communities.

Would you add anything else?


The 50 scientists supporting different ideas faced off in front of a ‘dragons den’ panel and then voted on their favourite three.

Which ideas do you think were most supported?

0 Responses to “The 10 most WANTED – New Zealand’s conservation wishlist”

  • I’ve no idea of which were the most supported, but I would prioritise the most important using two criteria, local and national.

    10. Mass mobilisation ( eg Stewart Island and mainland sactuaries),
    not because the latter are effective, but for their education value.
    5. Improved killing devices – that’s a challenge a lot of individuals and local groups could apply themselves to.
    4. Advanced pest surveillance and detection – once again something that could be local with national co-ordination.

    7. Super-lures – there are specialist small chemical companies that could focus on those, but they would need to partner experts who understood the biological issues of pest/prey interactions.
    2. Internationalise – pests such as mustelids and rodents are being researched elsewhere, and there are some specialist companies who could partner NZ researchers.
    4. Advanced pest surveillance and detection – this would be for the high capital cost, longer term items – such as autonomous land or air delivery and replenishment of traps, toxic baits, and lures, and also co-ordinating local activities to prevent duplication.

    I’d oppose a new agency and similar feel-good, but historically ineffective approaches. I would not say NZ is good at killing pests, not at even preventing their expansion, as reinfestation still occurs. The issue may be lack of money, but it’s still an issue.

    • Thank you Bruce,
      Yours is the sort of prespective about prioritisation that I was hoping would be added to this post. The addition of scale – local versus national – is an interesting adjustment that I hadn’t considered. Is it necessary to make the distinction, especially for a nation of New Zealand’s size?

      I do not support institutional reorganisation as a solution either. It approaches the problem like a horse approaching a cart. If, in the development and application of new tools, the need for reorganisation is made apparent then it should be considered a process towards implementation, not a solution in itself.

      I will be back with another post on this topic soon and will reveal how the 50 scientists ranked the ideas.



  • I’d suggest we need to develop ever more innovative and accurate ways of monetizing the impact of our inaction. We (as nations and people) are often very good at calculating the costs of our actions i.e. labour costs for trapping etc., but not very good at calculating the costs of our inactions. Thankfully this is changing. Recent arguments for banning neonicotinoids across Europe used costing models that argued bees contribute over €22 billion annually to European agriculture. This cost far outweighed those potential downside costs propagated by the pesticide manufacturers. Therefore, the simple economic cost of our inaction (i.e. doing nothing and not banning neonics) was potentially much greater than our action (i.e. banning them).

    Dealing with the issue of pest species will, in the end, take immense political will and leadership. To gain this will and leadership from our politicians we need to speak their language – economics (whether we like it or not). We need to be able to provide detailed costing models that demonstrate the financial implications of any inaction. However, these models shouldn’t just include those ecosystem services as noted above in relation to bees. We should also consider monetizing the intrinsic “value” of nature and ecosystems in ever more innovative ways. For example, consider for a moment….what would be the monetary cost to the New Zealand “brand” if it were to announce to the world that the Kiwi had become extinct in the wild?

    • Thank you Mike,

      This is an important addition to the debate, although outside the remit of the Pest Summit.

      There is a conference on the topic of biological valuation being planned in Wellington by Victoria Unviersity during the middle of this year (link and detail pasted below).



      The New Zealand Government’s Natural Resources Sector* and Victoria University of Wellington, in association with the Sustainable Business Council, are convening a conference to build on the momentum of the June 2012 Transit of Venus Forum.
      The conference will explore:
      • society’s reliance on the environment
      • how to estimate the value of nature and factor it into our products and services
      • how positive environmental practice can build market opportunities
      • and how countries build natural capital into national accounts

  • The reason for the Local/National distinction was based on my perception, which could well be incorrect, that many of the activities for pest control of areas, sanctuaries, islands etc, are driven by local volunteers, perhaps with DOC support.

    They are enthusiastic and historically have been more innovative than national entities, such as DOC, universities, CRIs, Callaghan Innovation, etc. Hence my suggestion they try to come up with innovative solutions for immediate and local problems.

    Local groups could address local pest issues, and specialist national entities address expensive high capital / high technology longer term national issues.

    However even that could changes with plummeting prices for consumer electronic devices that are already being modified for operations useful to pest monitoring and destruction. Examples include trail cams and autonomous land and air vehicles.

    It’s probably also worth remembering that historic pest destruction was more about pests that directly affected commercial enterprises, such as rabbits and grass grubs, rather than protecting at risk native species of plants and animals. Some of the current chemicals come from that era – perhaps there are superior products, but evaluations will be expensive, and hence more of a national issue.