In 2016, the Nelson Mail, a small regional newspaper in the South Island of New Zealand, took on an ambitious project — wiping out an invasive pest. The intention was to encourage readers as well as community and government conservation groups to come together to fight a single pest at a specific time, thereby having a bigger impact on its population than individual efforts.
Wasp Wipeout has now entered its fourth season, and the momentum of the project continues to build nationwide.
Wasps are major pests in New Zealand, significantly affecting food sources for native birds and devastating invertebrate populations. The pests, which have a nasty sting, are also a serious threat to those working in outdoor industries such as forestry and viticulture, and have a significant effect on tourism and recreational activities. Their estimated cost to the economy is US$85.3 million a year.
What began as a campaign by the Nelson Mail and Stuff to combat German and common wasps in the Nelson region has grown to address the pests throughout New Zealand. Last year, the Wasp Wipeout project widened its scope beyond vespula wasps to encourage readers to also target the paper wasp, another invasive wasp that is found around many urban dwellings.
The project works by installing bait stations in heavily infested areas. Then, when vespula wasps switch to a protein-based diet, the bait is placed and the wasps take it back to their nests, wiping them out. The bait has a 95% to 99% success rate and is removed a week later, leaving no bait in the environment.
This project continues to get more engagement and better results year-on-year. We’ve attracted significant donations from businesses such as BASF, as well as successfully qualifying for community funding from the Department of Conservation. This, on top of the generous donations from members of the public, resulted in an incredible US$49,000 at the end of December 2019 to go toward baiting for the 2020 season and will ensure we can bait all the areas we wish to target. (As of February 2020, a further US$15,000 had been donated). That brings the total to well over US$150,000 in donations since the project began.
In 2019, more than 140 volunteers laid close to 500 kilometers (310 miles) of wasp bait — that’s 9,821 bait stations — and cleared 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres) of wasp nests in popular recreational areas, a 50% increase in coverage from 2018. We anticipate that increase will be matched again in 2020 with the new regions on board.
A Department of Conservation Wasp Wipeout liaison said the success of this project was due to the widespread community involvement and support from groups and businesses. This season they have reported that some areas previously baited now show little to no signs of wasps.
With a dedicated section on Stuff, readers are able to find a wealth of information on what to do and how to get involved. We’ve been contacted by community groups undertaking their own wasp control, had readers submit their own experiences, and have been inundated with requests for information on how to deal with the pests.
Our social media site, Neighbourly, furthered insights into our audience as an educational poll on the site attracted more than 1,000 votes. More than half of the people responding didn’t know the difference between wasp breeds. This is valuable information to build on next year when we launch more editorial pieces and set the marketing strategy.