Stop the 26.5 tonnes of Brodicaoum laced bait being dropped up the Brook Stop the 26.5 tonnes of Brodicaoum laced bait being dropped up the Brook CREDIT: BVCG

Will this be Nelsons Silent Spring?

Friday 23 June 2017, 2:13PM
By J. James

Will dumping 26.5 tonnes of Brodifacoum laced bait into the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary cause Nelsons very own ‘Silent Spring’?

Plans are underway to drop 26.5 tonnes of brodifacoum in a pristine natural Nelson environment.

Brodifacoum is the most toxic of a potent and cruel second-generation anticoagulant poison.  It causes, the blood plasma and blood itself to leak from the smallest blood vessels. A poisoned animal will suffer progressively worsening internal bleeding, leading to shock, loss of consciousness, and eventually death. It is highly lethal to mammals and birds, and extremely lethal to fish. It is a highly cumulative poison, due to its high lipophilicity and extremely slow elimination.

It has mostly been used in controlled bait stations for rodent/pest control, however, it’s use seems more popular these days where it is aerially dropped , contrary to manufacturers warning, onto off shore islands for predator control and more recently fenced mainland sanctuaries close to communities.  Brodifacoum – brodi for short, is insoluble in water, which means it doesn’t break down easily, and it persists in the environment for weeks and months, still having half its orginal potency after 157 days is one estimate. The Brook Sanctuary will be closed for possibly a year because of it.

What is so disturbing about this poison is that it keeps on killing through secondary poison and like all aerial drops of such poisons, it doesn’t just kill the targeted pests, it’s an indiscriminate killer, that kills anything that eats it, native birds/bats/fish/etc  and those that feast on the toxic carcasses. If exposure to the baits is not lethal it can accumulate in the liver and possibly muscle tissue of its victims where it can take up to a year of, scavenging hunting and eating poisoned bugs/insects/mice and carcasses to build up to lethal levels and die without anyone linking its death to the deadly poison. 

Brodifacoum has been found in the livers of dead kiwi, tuatara (in a zoo) eels, penguin and seagulls, and dogs to name but a few, it has killed snails and frogs, as well as rats and it has been found in the bodies of road-killed hawks.

Birds fly, mammals roam, fish swim, insects travel, and so the spread of this poison has disturbing and dire consequences for all our wild life.

To reassure the public and to mitigate its serious affects DoC and its companions Forest & Bird, allways preface their drops by telling us that this is an over the counter poison giving the impression that it is quite harmless.  The BWST gives the same assurances, however it can kill your cat if the mice it eats is taking days to die from nibbling it.  But more than this, it is banned for domestic use in most other countries around the world because of its secondary kill ability. 

New Zealand seems to have a reputation for being the last to ban these deadly toxins.


A report in one region of the country reveals that brodifacoum exposure of some vertebrate wildlife is ubiquitous, which means all pervasive.  Another report tells us that

….”….There is increasing evidence that uses of anticoagulants for both household rodent control and field pest management are resulting in widespread contamination of both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. The latter is presumably through carcasses of poisoning animals entering waterways, rather than direct contamination of waterways by bait. ..”…

You can read this hereherehere and here 

The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary hereby referred to as the BWST want to drop 26.5 tonnes of brodifacoum laced bait  into their fenced sanctuary in a few weeks time. The area spans 700  hectares of mostly mature beech forest  mixed with huge podocarps.  It is home to rare species of NZ falcon, yellow crowned parakeets, weka and robins They say, even though they don’t want to do this, they have to do this before they can introduce endangered native species like kiwi and Tuatara.  They say they have to have a 100% kill rate of ‘pests’.  The BWST management know this will also kill many of the species they purport to save, but they consider it worth it, and theorise that the birds will bounce back; lets hope they don’t feast on brodifacoum infected insects.  It is a grave naivety to think that these toxins will not affect the naturally occurring biodiversity of this natural sanctuary.

The BWST  trivialises concerns over the dropping of 26.5 tonnes of brodifacoum by saying that its only 500 grams of brodifacoum, which is equivalent to a block of butter. 

However 1 mg = 0.00.1 gram and it only takes tiny amounts to kill a bird or is uptaken  by insects which birds feed on. (1 mg/kg b.w. — 20 mg/kg b.w)

seen in this light 500grams of a highly toxic and accumulative poison spread through 26.5 tonnes of serial bait dropped from a helicopter into 700  hectares of a rebounding diverse eco system is quite alarming.

…”…Insectivorous nestlings could be at risk of poisoning if they are fed contaminated invertebrates, which have been detected up to 10 weeks after the application of brodifacoum…”…

The area known, affectionately by locals as simply The Brook, is the old water catchment area, once Nelsons original water supply. It has the purest water in the region and has always been a naturally regenerating ecological sanctuary in its own right. Maintained by the Nelson City Council and trapped by volunteers, it has a rich bird life.  It is public land and was freely accessible to everyone in the community to enjoy, and only a 5 min drive or 15 minute bike ride from Nelson CBD. 

It is home to the native owl and rare NZ falcon, as well as the native green gecko, native bats have been seen flying over the area, as well as tuis, wood pigeons and (whio), the blue duck.   Recently the sounds of a mating pair of kiwis has been heard although not yet confirmed, one appears to be stuck inside the fence while the other is outside it, all of these and the plethora of birds that now call this place home will be endangered and under threat from this poison drop.  Are their deaths worth it.  The Brook Valley community Group say NO.

There is more going on here than the poison drop, although that in and of itself is of deep concern to the Brook Valley Community Group, a group made up of local residents and a growing number of supporters who between them have a vast knowledge of the ecology and history of this area.  The BVCG will be referred to throughout this article as simply the community group.

From the beginning the BWST actions have disturbed the community group and its lack of communication with their concerns began to alienate support for it, and it all started with a fence, and the destruction of the land to make it.

This sanctuary came into being as a private enterprise, a charity that has the status of a private person.  Suddenly with minimal consultation or public notice what was once public became private and a grandiose vision of a bird sanctuary, tourist attraction began to emerge.

The BWST leases this public land off the Nelson City Council, and yet as a private person/enterprise has so far received over $1.6 million dollars of rate payer money with more to come, against the objections of the community and the Nelson Ratepayers Association.  Even the council is not listening to the peoples concerns.

Recently, against objections the cash strapped sanctuary asked Nelson council for $250,000, the NCC rubber stamped $100,000 with the proviso that the balance of $150,000 will be given once they see another business plan.  The BWST had previously assured people that it would not be a burden on ratepayers.

The feel good notion of the ‘save’ our babies campaign, and the lucrative tourist dollar has blinded this council.

The ‘sanctuary’ is the grandiose vision of a few private individuals.

Described as an ‘Ark’ to the future with a vision to be New Zealand’s richest conservation environment and to provide an educational research and resource centre it ring barked nature with a 14.5 km predator fence, that locals warned would not withstand the slips and forces of nature that this area is known for.

The area is steep and made up of shale.  Some say that there was an original engineering report that advised against building a fence because of the instability of the land, however this report seems to have disappeared and the fence went ahead, with predictable results, slips, constant slips and continual damage to the fence, and now a few weeks out from this drop locals are deeply concerned that the fence is not predator proof enough and that the drop will be another waste of ratepayers money, although its not clear who is actually paying for this drop, rates, or donations/grants.

The fence was paid for by fundraising, grants, and individuals, but ratepayers money has been funnelled in to fix it.

In the construction of the fence the conditions for its build were breeched in serious ways, a strand of ancient old growth trees with an historic relevance were felled, causing that land to become unstable.  These trees were part of the historic Dun Mountain trail.  Was there a penalty or consequences for their destruction or was it simply shrugged away like so many of the communities concerns?  The fence also breeched its consents when it deviated from its planed route, continuing to destabilise the land and now constant monitoring of the fence seems to take precedence over pest control.

The community group and indeed, many of those that support the building of the fence by sponsoring a post are now disheartened because they didn’t know about the intention to aerially drop this poison.  There appears to be no mention of it in any prior consent forms. 

Indeed it wasn’t public knowledge because Wildlands, the company who did the report, a 60 page Assessment Environmental Effects, (AEE) considered that despite being the home of the green gecko and other natives and being a pristine A grade water catchment area that there was less than minor effect to the environment, thus the consent ticked the box where the BWST didn’t have to notify the community, because after all, there would be less than a minor effect so no one need know. Or was it because they knew few in Nelson would support such a move.

Thus the community at large was unaware until someone leaked the consent form to social media, where it went viral.  A couple of days later the Nelson mail, got wind of it.
 (Note  that the sanctuary neighbours mentioned in this article, as approving the drop is Mr David Butler, one of the private individuals who had the grandiose vision of having a bird sanctuary in his back yard and charis the trust of the BWST.  He is often depicted in articles as simply a landowner in the area who agrees with the drop).

Wildlands, the company who determined that aerial dropping of brodifocoum would have a less than minor effect  had a major conflict of interests in approving such a drop, they were the same people who built the fence.  Here we have one company – building a fence, and writing the Assessment  of Environmental Effect reports.

The community group challenged the report and the consent for the drop, saying there was maximum concern dropping brodificaoum in such a pristine high-grade water catchment area, one that flows, through the back yards of so many people, through the town and then out into Tasman bay. 

There is maximum concern over the instability of the fence and how many times it had been damaged.  There is maximum concern, even from the local SPCA about the inhuman ways these creatures will suffer.  There is maximum concern for the wild life in this natural untouched sanctuary where native birds were beginning to regenerate well with trapping.  Ironically even the Sanctuary’s own newsletters spoke of how successful their trapping and hunting of wild game was, 30,000 caught in traps over a couple of years, and how because of it, the birds where coming back into peoples back yards. Now however, their traps lie stacked up unused so they can build up the numbers of pest so they can be killed by the poison drop.

Expert witness statement of a New Zealand trained Wildlife Biologist gave grave warnings of the collateral damage of non-targeted animals, and recently had this to say. 

..”.. Reptiles, frogs and Invertebrates like insects and worms can eat more poison before they die. This is because they are cold blooded and have a slower metabolism than warm blooded, high energy animals and birds....If the Brook Sanctuary is poisoned this winter nearly all the young birds raised by their parents this spring will die because their parents will be feeding them insects with high toxic loadings of Brodifacoum….”…he was referring to a study by Masuda, Fisher et al published 7 Nov 2013 in the NZ Journal of Ecology. 

Despite the concerns, and obvious reasons not to do this it was approved with over 40 specific conditions/precautions that the BWST had to abide by to ensure safe practise.  However Nick Smith, as the minister for the environment, hurriedly changed the consent process for fenced sanctuary’s and aerial drops in general, much in the same way he changed the pollution rating for swimmable rivers, so that now these conditions no longer seem to apply and the BWST and the NCC have surrendered responsibility for them in the original RMA consent.

There are so many disturbing things happening here that it would take a book to explain them, but suffice to say, the very nature of a fenced sanctuary, a phenomenon that is increasing, is, or should be a testimony to how humans have failed to protect their vulnerable ecological system to such a degree, that they now have to ring bark nature to conserve it.  These fenced sanctuaries need critical evaluation

the nature of fenced sanctuaries needs critical evaluation.

Tim Skinner is a resident of the brook, he is also a Nelson City Councillor one of the few representing his constituents.  Here he explains what he discovered and why he is speaking out.

To understand the concerns of the Brook Valley Community Group, listen to this community radio interview.  These are elders in our community, not mis informed, not rabble rousers, but concerned and informed elders.

It should also be mentioned that it is NOT rats nor predators that are the number one cause of the decline of our native birds; No, that is the rationale used, it is the spin/fear they use to create a crisis, to engage you the public, to garner support, to gain permission for dropping the deadliest toxins indiscriminately into a fragile ecosystem.

The number one destroyer of our native birds is the destruction of their habitat by forestry, farming and urban sprawl. Human industrialisation, which is constantly expanding. 

This is the number one cause of loss of our birds, their habitat is taken over by pine forests and ever increasing farm land and out of control urban sprawl.  No matter how many native trees/shrubs you plant in your garden, it will never replace the vast tracts of native habitat that birds need to thrive.  New Zealand has become a deforested land, just take a journey across our Islands on google earth to see for your self.  But you never hear this from the pest industry or forest & bird, or DoC or Farmers.

They are waging a war upon nature - and nature is loosing, birds are dying, and the ecosystem is struggling.

The Pest industry is a multi million dollar industry and its killing not just rats and predators but the very birds its purporting to save which makes me ask the question; is this why the rise in sanctuaries?   The Pest industry has a revolving door between itself F&B and DoC, interlocking supportive relationships much like the pharmaceutical industry and the CDC.

The irony here is that it was forestry and farming that originally introduced the notion of killing pests to protect their respective industries and, now we have a decreasing native bird/species population, a decreasing wild nature/forest, where native forests are becoming like shrinking islands criss-crossed by roads in a wasteland of pine plantations, farmland, cities and suburbia.

By their very nature fenced ‘sanctuaries’ can be called zoo’s, and like Zealandia in Wellington, which despite its fence and its brodifacoum drop, still has mice in abundance, there can be NO 100% predator free, even in a sanctuary.  Zelandia  is now in the hands of the Wellington city council, will this be the fate of The Brook Sanctuary, another burden on the ratepayers of Nelson? 

What was once a naturally evolving ‘sanctuary’ on public land, free to the public to access, will soon be inaccessible unless a $17 fee is paid.  Will it be able to attract the 30,000 visitors a year it needs to be sustainable, especially with a fence that will be forever in danger of slip sliding away? 

 The terrain in the Brook is steep, which is the reason given for doing the drop rather than continue with trapping, but dropped from a helicopter, these pellets will bounce and roll down to a certain level, they will be blown out of the tree tops and into the A grade water, how many will go over the fence on to tracks and into the wild, no one knows.  E.coli can get into the water from animals seeking relief in water and dying in it.

Pest proof fencing is not an accurate name for these fences as this report explains breaches happen in all fenced sanctuaries. 

Of course we want to see our beautiful native birds thriving, we want to see endangered species once again fly in abundance in our sky’s, but dropping brodifacoum in our wild places is not the answer.  The price of secondary death, and toxicity of our water and soil is too high a price to pay.

As a community we need to come together and brain storm other ways.  The community group is ready and willing to help, to step up trapping and or find other non toxic ways. Perhaps the area can be better served by new generation trapping for a similar cost.

After all, Nelson has always had a reputation for being different/alternative; the potential to lead the way in non toxic eradication of pests is possible.  We understand that rats/rodents can prey on birds, and do need controlling, it is noted though, that after aerial drops rats can breed back to almost plague proportions, however the growing concern here is that the cure may be far more dangerous with serious long term effects for natural biodiversity from the lowly insects to all bird life in NZ.  Interfering with and manipulating ecosystems always comes with unpredicted consequences.

The BWST needs to engage the community group for this task and not succumb to the hype of a toxic industry that Rachel Carson in her book silent spring warns us would have dire consequences for the future.  It maybe that with the continual dropping of brodifacoum in our bush, this future is already here.

part II - Legal challenge has been made