1080 book tackles hard questions

Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife
Potton & Burton, RRP $34.99

IN the age of post-truth politics and keyboard warriors, writing a book on 1080 is a brave task.

Author Dave Hansford does not mess around. From the very first pages of Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife, it is clear he is not only for 1080, but he is sick of the controversy and the political football it has become.

His final conclusion is even more blunt: “Left to itself, our ancient, eccentric, so very Kiwi ecology will simply disappear. The pests, the protestors, will have won.”

But it is not an easy conclusion.

“It’s not until you see one (1080 bait) in the forest that it all comes home, that you fully appreciate the magnitude of what we’re doing here. We’re hurling a bane into our cathedrals.

“That bait, that little pill for our ailing forests, represents a viscerally unnatural intervention. I stood there regarding it for a long time, and it struck me that we’re right to harbour reservations. It’s proper that we have the debate, because it’s a grave thing that we do.”

These admissions are what make the book a heartfelt and emotional, while scientific and factual, piece of work.

Before picking up the book, I had several reservations. I knew 1080 was a poison in high doses and a lot of people were fired-up about it, but not much more. Would I understand it? And could 318 pages on a poison be interesting?

The answer to both is a resounding “yes”.

Hansford, a journalist, writes features and a regular column for New Zealand Geographic, and provides environmental commentary for Radio NZ.

He analyses a trove of scientific reports and studies, and interviews a “who’s who” of relevant New Zealand scientists and conservationists, and even 1080 opponents who would speak to him.

In-depth coverage

He covers in depth how effective 1080 is in eradicating pests, compared to not using it, how the poison degrades in nature, and how technological advances are making 1080 drops safer, more targeted and with lower doses.

The book is rich in facts many readers, such as me, might not have been aware of, such as 1080 being naturally found in certain plants.

But it is Hansford’s writing style and use of imagery, especially in describing pre-human Aotearoa, that make it a truly great read.

“Aotearoa then, was a kind of Eden; but if you’ve been lucky enough to meet a kakapo, you’ll understand the tragedy that came next.

“Kiore (rats) and kuri (dogs) were set loose in a forest swarming with flightless, clueless victims. Sharp-nosed, fleet of foot, the rats feasted on Aotearoa’s aromatic creatures. The kakapo knew only to stay rooted to the spot — and they were slaughtered in droves.”

With the Europeans, “much worse was to come”.

It goes to the bone of the uneasiness about 1080. Who are humans to decide who lives and who dies?

The war metaphor is omnipresent: the battle for truth, the “first casualty of war”, and the “war-like” tension between the Department of Conservation and its opponents.

“There’s something distinctly Apocalypse Now about the whole milieu.”

Hansford’s discussion of post-truth politics — timely, with Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential election — where emotion triumphs facts and science, provide invaluable advice for those who work across those divides, namely journalists and science communicators.

He draws comparisons to the anti-vaccination movement, investigating “anti-science”, “anti-intellectualism” and “anti-establishment” movements; the fear they thrive on, and the advent of social media to spread information — often false — like wildfire.

Along with opponents that trawl the “comments sections”, Hansford addresses those more reasoned: landowners directly affected by 1080 drops, and many Maori opposed to 1080 and how it can affect “mauri”, the life-supporting capacity of the environment.

Hansford interviews several people who can be shown the science but simply cannot move past the intentional “state-sponsored” poisoning of the environment.

“Not everyone is reassured by western science. Rather, they take counsel from their own culture.”

He does not dance around the truly bad sides of 1080 either, from the extremely high-dosage 1080 drops in the early days, when many native birds were killed, to an explicit account of the way 1080 kills its targets.

Despite a bleak picture of New Zealand’s battle for conservation amid constant funding cuts and looming “ecological debt”, the final chapters give hope, and address the future of pest-control.

With wonderful new innovations, including the Goodnature re-loading trap that can kill up to 24 predators before needing to be checked, there is hope the “poison” will not be needed forever.

Protecting Paradise represents not only a solid, while empathetic, defence of using 1080 for saving New Zealand’s wildlife, but it gives a detailed account of New Zealand’s unique environment and history.

It won’t likely budge those entrenched against 1080, but as a country where conservation is part of our identity, this book should be prescribed reading for every New Zealander.

Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s Wildlife is published by Potton & Burton, and retails for $34.99.

IN the age of post-truth politics and keyboard warriors, writing a book on 1080 is a brave task.

Author Dave Hansford does not mess around. From the very first pages of Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife, it is clear he is not only for 1080, but he is sick of the controversy and the political football it has become.

His final conclusion is even more blunt: “Left to itself, our ancient, eccentric, so very Kiwi ecology will simply disappear. The pests, the protestors, will have won.”

But it is not an easy conclusion.

“It’s not until you see one (1080 bait) in the forest that it all comes home, that you fully appreciate the magnitude of what we’re doing here. We’re hurling a bane into our cathedrals.

“That bait, that little pill for our ailing forests, represents a viscerally unnatural intervention. I stood there regarding it for a long time, and it struck me that we’re right to harbour reservations. It’s proper that we have the debate, because it’s a grave thing that we do.”

These admissions are what make the book a heartfelt and emotional, while scientific and factual, piece of work.

Before picking up the book, I had several reservations. I knew 1080 was a poison in high doses and a lot of people were fired-up about it, but not much more. Would I understand it? And could 318 pages on a poison be interesting?

The answer to both is a resounding “yes”.

Hansford, a journalist, writes features and a regular column for New Zealand Geographic, and provides environmental commentary for Radio NZ.

He analyses a trove of scientific reports and studies, and interviews a “who’s who” of relevant New Zealand scientists and conservationists, and even 1080 opponents who would speak to him.

In-depth coverage

He covers in depth how effective 1080 is in eradicating pests, compared to not using it, how the poison degrades in nature, and how technological advances are making 1080 drops safer, more targeted and with lower doses.

The book is rich in facts many readers, such as me, might not have been aware of, such as 1080 being naturally found in certain plants.

But it is Hansford’s writing style and use of imagery, especially in describing pre-human Aotearoa, that make it a truly great read.

“Aotearoa then, was a kind of Eden; but if you’ve been lucky enough to meet a kakapo, you’ll understand the tragedy that came next.

“Kiore (rats) and kuri (dogs) were set loose in a forest swarming with flightless, clueless victims. Sharp-nosed, fleet of foot, the rats feasted on Aotearoa’s aromatic creatures. The kakapo knew only to stay rooted to the spot — and they were slaughtered in droves.”

With the Europeans, “much worse was to come”.

It goes to the bone of the uneasiness about 1080. Who are humans to decide who lives and who dies?

The war metaphor is omnipresent: the battle for truth, the “first casualty of war”, and the “war-like” tension between the Department of Conservation and its opponents.

“There’s something distinctly Apocalypse Now about the whole milieu.”

Hansford’s discussion of post-truth politics — timely, with Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential election — where emotion triumphs facts and science, provide invaluable advice for those who work across those divides, namely journalists and science communicators.

He draws comparisons to the anti-vaccination movement, investigating “anti-science”, “anti-intellectualism” and “anti-establishment” movements; the fear they thrive on, and the advent of social media to spread information — often false — like wildfire.

Along with opponents that trawl the “comments sections”, Hansford addresses those more reasoned: landowners directly affected by 1080 drops, and many Maori opposed to 1080 and how it can affect “mauri”, the life-supporting capacity of the environment.

Hansford interviews several people who can be shown the science but simply cannot move past the intentional “state-sponsored” poisoning of the environment.

“Not everyone is reassured by western science. Rather, they take counsel from their own culture.”

He does not dance around the truly bad sides of 1080 either, from the extremely high-dosage 1080 drops in the early days, when many native birds were killed, to an explicit account of the way 1080 kills its targets.

Despite a bleak picture of New Zealand’s battle for conservation amid constant funding cuts and looming “ecological debt”, the final chapters give hope, and address the future of pest-control.

With wonderful new innovations, including the Goodnature re-loading trap that can kill up to 24 predators before needing to be checked, there is hope the “poison” will not be needed forever.

Protecting Paradise represents not only a solid, while empathetic, defence of using 1080 for saving New Zealand’s wildlife, but it gives a detailed account of New Zealand’s unique environment and history.

It won’t likely budge those entrenched against 1080, but as a country where conservation is part of our identity, this book should be prescribed reading for every New Zealander.

Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s Wildlife is published by Potton & Burton, and retails for $34.99.

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Ruth Weston - 4 months ago
1080 is NOT the same chemical as occurs naturally. Very disappointing to read that this misinformation is being promoted yet again.

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