Mitch Graham reckons he may not be able to stop the glaciers melting, but he can help give Taranaki’s native species a fighting chance against predators.
After an acclaimed 40-year horticulture career, the last 16 as head gardener of New Plymouth’s Tūpare Gardens, Mitch has joined the Towards Predator-Free Taranaki field staff, working mainly on the Kaitake Zero Possum project.
A lightbulb moment led to the somewhat unexpected career move.
“The opportunity came up and I thought ‘do I want to sink my teeth into something else for the next eight years or so until I retire?’
“I realised yes, I want to take on something that the whole country is behind and is really going to make a difference.
“I’m not really in a position to stop the glaciers melting but I can certainly get out there and give our flora and fauna a big chance of winning the battle against these pests.”
A fit, experienced tramper at ease in the outdoors, Mitch wasn’t daunted by the shift from pruning to possum trapping.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go to places like Little Barrier Island and Fiordland and see what success looks like with predator control. So I thought, ‘I can do this’.
“The level of fitness is similar. I guess I was doing CrossFit in the garden whereas here I’m doing more power walking!”
He admits it wasn’t an easy decision, as he had been instrumental in transforming Tūpare into a world-class garden.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss it because it was such a part of me for such a long time.”
However, he loves the new gig - getting out into the Pukeiti rainforest on the edge of the Kaitake Range, looking after roughly 800 traps that form the barrier. He is soaking up every aspect of the Zero Possum project, which aims to eradicate possums completely from the 4,500ha area from Pukeiti down to the coast.
That includes getting to grips with the technology. The traps on the barrier are equipped with wireless nodes. Mitch and the team remotely monitor what is happening with the traps, and if anything has been caught.
Towards Predator-Free Taranaki is led by Taranaki Regional Council, which also owns and operates Tūpare, Pukeiti and Hollard Gardens. So while Mitch’s employer has not changed, he is getting to know a brand new team – and it’s an impressive one, he says.
“I’m amazed by how skilled and knowledgeable the staff in the Predator-Free and wider Council Environment Services team are. I’m learning a heck of a lot about pests and technology and traps and knowing how these predators operate, that’s been a big learning curve.”
Towards Predator-Free Taranaki Programme Lead Sam Haultain says Mitch has fit right in and brought fantastic energy to the team.
“We’re stoked to have him on board. He has a genuine passion for our environment and shares our commitment to removing predators and helping our native species thrive.”