WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

Gathering votes
Gathering votes

Catch-IT : capturing community conservation data for this generation and the next

Our idea is Catch-IT: a software system for community conservationists to store, secure, and bring to life your project's progress. We store your trapping and baiting records in an online database with a simple entry form anyone can use. We provide maps, charts, animations, analysis, and reporting. We make our graphics interactive and fascinating, and we personalise them so you can explore the special difference that you are making. Our earliest outputs can be seen at www.stat.auckland.ac.nz/~fewster/CatchIT/.

Imagine what we can learn from you - and imagine what you can learn from us! You will see your project come to life through the seasons and the years. We will generate a goldmine of experience and best practice for sharing. We will really put the community into community conservation!

What New Zealand conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Thousands of volunteers nationwide dedicate their free time to pest control. Their activities offer an unprecedented source of data for informing and improving best practice. It needs a system like ours to coordinate, standardise, and put the joy into creating and delivering on this treasure trove.

What makes your idea new and unique?

Our idea is game-changing because we can tap into existing efforts nationwide to share and learn together. What makes CatchIT unique is what we can do with your data. As statisticians, we know how to transform information into insight for you and for us all.

We are now piloting CatchIT Schools for children to make a real difference while learning science and conservation. Children have so far caught 30 rats, 80 mice and 120 possums in just two weeks! We believe in strength in numbers - literally!

Who will use your idea, and how will it make conservation action more efficient or effective?

You! Catch-IT is open to all users, from large-scale projects with hundreds of traps to back-yard conservationists on private property. We have about 25 groups online and are growing weekly.

  • We take care of your data storage, analysis, and reporting. No more stress, more time succeeding!
  • People love seeing their progress in our animations and personalised charts. We aim to inspire and motivate by giving you back your own achievements.
  • Primary Schools - growing a new generation of conservationists!

What tasks or activities do you need investment for ? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

We only need salary for our software developer. We're committed to keeping CatchIT free for users. We'd spend $25K on our hard-working and deserving developer!

Click MouseAnimation.gif below to see animated mouse catches in one of our projects from 2014-2015. Watch what happens in late summer 2015!

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?


Which category best describes your idea?

Community Project

I have read the Terms of Use, the Supplemental Terms of Use, and Community Guidelines - see links at the bottom of this page


List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

Beech flower alert: wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/#/post/156772 - as below

Kill Trap: Possum: wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/#/post/157691 - great idea with open-source plan. We need to build in data-capture from  these great new traps too.

AviaNZ: wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/category/#/post/158733 - auto-ID from bird calls rings bells for me both as a bird enthusiast and researcher.

Lure Trap Retreat: wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/category#/post/157523 - we need more for lizards and I like the focus on citizen science and accessible stats.

Predator Sentry: wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/160234 - exciting auto-monitoring potential.

How could you improve your idea?

Much of the feedback has been about combining pest monitoring with other processes, for example watching animations of beech flowering and mouse irruptions in tandem. Similarly, people want to view the positives such as improvements in the bird and lizard populations together with evidence about volunteers' hard efforts at predator control. These are great ideas and it's interesting to see how commenters have focused on the ecosystem as a whole - people want to see predator management as a piece of a wider jigsaw and I agree.

I also love Peter Hodge's idea about using CatchIT to monitor penguins in  nestboxes - this could also be extended to other species with fixed monitoring stations such as geckos or weta.

Thanks to Lee for the organising and to everyone for the comments!

edited on Sep 25, 2015 by Rachel Fewster

Peter Hamill Sep 7, 2015

The Catch-IT software has allowed the Kaipupu Point Sounds Wildlife Sanctuary to better understand the population dynamics of mice and therefore be able to target critical time periods and locations in its mission to eradicate predators form this special area.  There is no better motivation for our team of volunteers to continue their outstanding efforts than seeing on a map where mice numbers are declining and what they are doing IS making a difference.   Visit www.kaipupupoint.co.nz for more information on our Project

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Jack000 Sep 8, 2015

Sounds great.

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Lee Barry Sep 8, 2015

Hey Rachel - check out the interesting notion suggested over on Rob's Beech Mast idea: https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/#/post/156772 . Could Catch-IT visually track the link between rodent numbers to beech mast events??

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Rachel Fewster Sep 8, 2015

Thanks for the comments, David and Lee. This is a great idea! We can easily link our catch animations to Rob's beech mast: all we would need is a spreadsheet with dates and locations of beech flowering, then we could put two animated maps one above the other so we might see a beech flower map flooding with colour and then a short while later we might see the predator catches surging. It would really help to calibrate the link between intensity and timing of beech flowering and later predator surges.

This is also connected with another aim of incorporating bird sightings into CatchIT - we haven't got this yet but it's a feature we would love to add. Then we could also see the interplay between predator catches and the outcomes for the bird populations.

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Julia Allwood Sep 17, 2015

Calibrating the link between mast intensity and timing with predator surges would be great.  This could be of particular interest in sanctuaries that are mostly pest-free but are still trying to get rid of mice!

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Holger Hoffmann-Riem Sep 8, 2015

I love the idea of using digital technology to connect lots of volunteers. And it looks like the community is growing fast. How would this be funded in the long run?

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Rachel Fewster Sep 9, 2015

Thanks for your comment, Holger. Long-term funding is indeed the million-dollar question (except luckily we are cheaper than a million dollars!) At the moment we're operating on a patchwork of grants and philanthropic support, mainly through University networks and funders. Our current strategy is to prove ourselves useful enough that we can approach a conglomerate of large agencies like regional councils and DoC to commit a modest amount of funding each for long-term support. We think we can save these agencies money by coordinating data collection for projects on their patch and helping with reporting, analysing, and auditing. As well as saving staff time, we might be able to help them target resources like toxins more efficiently, saving money that way. But it is a catch-22 because we need to demonstrate our usefulness to gain funding, but we need funding to demonstrate our usefulness. We're interested in any advice that anyone here might have!

The only thing we need funding for is salary for our dedicated software developer. The University of Auckland is happy to host public-interest software without charge, and our outputs, analyses and graphics can be supported and developed into the distant future for free, thanks to our endless supply of smart postgraduate students here in the Stats department. Working on CatchIT for course credit has been really good for our students so far - it's given them some highly sought-after skills in graphics and communication for later employment.

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Holger Hoffmann-Riem Sep 9, 2015

I think you have a reasonable strategy, and this challenge could help you to make a first step to get out of this catch-22...

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Deesha Chandra Sep 8, 2015

Its so helpful to use data for future planning, to collate a bigger data set what's the plan for growing your reach and recruiting more users? 

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Rachel Fewster Sep 9, 2015

Hi Deesha,

We have a few options for increasing our reach. We can link to existing networks like NatureSpace - and WWF of course! We are also establishing relationships with a few of the regional councils who are just getting going with piloting CatchIT on initial projects. If these go well the idea is to gradually sign up the other projects on their books. Additionally, the word of mouth network is very powerful as a lot of people are involved in multiple projects. If we ever get a lull in enquiries, that would also be the right moment to get our University media people to put out a press release - we haven't done that yet because we've had our hands kept very full.  :-)

One thing that I feel strongly about is that people shouldn't be forced into using a system like this. Not all conservationists are computer-savvy and we don't want to foist ourselves on them. Instead, we want to get people excited about what they would gain from using CatchIT by seeing our graphics and outputs so that they get enthusiastic about signing up. For large projects I think it's also a good idea to have a core of people who are comfortable with computers and are happy to enter data on behalf of anyone who might not be. I'd like to think that the system is really easy to use, but we can't expect everyone to want to adopt it overnight. The overriding aim is to make it good enough that people want to be part of it!

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Sam Rye Sep 9, 2015

Interesting to see how close my idea that I've been bubbling away on for about 3 years now is to this! I'd be interested to hear a little more about the technology that sits behind this? How easy is it for community conservation groups to use? What kind of interface do they need to enter data into?

What pros and cons do you find being part of the university? 

I love the aspect of the data analysis that you could do with multiple layers of data as Lee mentioned above with mast flowering. Is there any examples of this that you have already?

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Rachel Fewster Sep 9, 2015

Hi Sam,

Good to see your idea uploaded just now. About the technology behind CatchIT, we use Google Web Tools for the interface which sits online at www.catchit.co.nz. Behind the interface is a MySQL database. For graphics and animations, we export the data to the statistical software R where we are building Shiny web apps for users to interact with their graphics. How about you?

I think it is pretty easy for conservation groups to use. The hardest part is uploading the project in the first place - we prefer to help users through this or do it for them because the formats have to be just right. However creating and uploading a new project can take as little as half an hour if we start off with the trap coordinates in good shape, and we have had a few people upload their own projects without our involvement. Once the project is uploaded, the data entry is very easy.

Pros and cons of being in a university ... pros are we have access to superb people, facilities, and infrastructure, and freedom to work on projects of our own choosing. Cons - juggling many competing demands: a constant need to slow the sun down!

We haven't got any examples of multi-layer animations as yet, but it would be relatively straightforward to do if someone has suitable data. We could create multi-pest animations (e.g. stoats and rats) - however beech-flowering would probably be more interesting because of the cause-and-effect time delay.


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Sam Rye Sep 10, 2015

Yes this is great - am I right in thinking you're primarily focused on predator control data at this stage? 

Here's my project: https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/157294

At this stage I'm working through proof of concept with some off the peg tools which pull in the data, and just about to embark on a project with some of Massey University School of Design's brightest young minds to take it into full UX/UI prototyping phase.

Definitely think that the hardest part is getting the data in the first place, so I'm focused on making that SUPER easy for people out and about in the field. I used to be a Volunteer Manager & Ranger myself - so I know how painful it is to write things on paper, then type it all up back at the office, and with smartphones these days it should be done in the field if we can get the caching and synch right!

So we've not decided on tech, but most likely a Rails backend, and Javascript / native app front end. I'm also just uploading another idea now which is more to do with photopoints!

I'm keen to focus on capturing the every day grind for a range of conservation projects - trees planted, weeds pulled out, boardwalk built etc. - if we can help them show the volunteers these reports, then I think we can start making headway into better volunteer engagement and management over time!

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Peter Hodge Sep 18, 2015

Hi Rachel 

I'm involved with Places for Penguins on the Miramar Peninsula, Wellington. We do predator control (trapping, baiting) and monitoring, and we monitor penguin nesting boxes for breeding.

I'm wondering if at some point CatchIt will be able to capture and analyse data other than trap catch, e.g., bird breeding and survival rates, and integrate this with trap catch data.

For our programme it would be really interesting to see if there are correlations between trapping and breeding success rates, and even better between different trapping regimes (e.g., intensive localised v more general extensive) and breeding success.


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Rachel Fewster Sep 21, 2015

Hi Peter,

Your project sounds like a perfect setting for developing these features. We are currently thinking about how to record and analyse bird sightings, as we very much want CatchIT to create a record of the positive impact, and not to be just about eliminating pests.

In your case, with penguin nesting boxes being at fixed locations, we can create a new facility quite easily. You can actually do it yourself in CatchIT at the moment by using our "user's choice" entry form, but if we do it more formally by creating a new data type then we can also offer graphics and analyses. It would be quite straightforward and something I'd be very keen on. Your idea about monitoring survival and breeding success is very exciting. In my other research projects these themes come up a lot, but I hadn't thought of them in connection with CatchIT. The point that monitored nest-boxes are similar to monitored traps means that we could very easily work into this space. Thanks for the suggestion and please feel free to drop me a line if you would like to pursue these ideas: r.fewster@auckland.ac.nz.  It fits well with the development we are doing at the moment so it's great timing as well.

For other projects where they don't have fixed recording stations like nestboxes, the challenge with bird recording is that some volunteers record everything they see, others only record special sightings, and others record nothing. We think that we can put in some statistical magic and account for this in a reasonably scientific fashion. This is one of our big projects on the horizon for next year and beyond.

Thanks for your suggestion Peter and I'm keen to talk about it more.

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Peter Hodge Sep 25, 2015

Thanks Rachel, very interesting. I'll email you to discuss further.

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Lee Barry Sep 19, 2015

Status changed to Finalist
This idea has passed all the milestones and is eligible for final judging by WWF's expert panel

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Lee Barry Sep 19, 2015

Status changed to No special status

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Lee Barry Sep 19, 2015

Sorry Rachel ! I thought you had completed your final stage but my mistake, that is still underway. I'm sure you WILL be a finalist, eligible for final judging, once you complete that last step. My apologies for any confusion - I got a little over-eager there!!


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EcoGecko Consultants Sep 23, 2015

This is a really good project and I am in full support of it - would love to see it happen. Could it be "mashed" with Sam's Volunteer Impact?


What councils and community groups are currently using this?

What are the other potential applications?
- pest control over time
- beech masting
- bird sightings
-... etc?

Good luck!

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Rachel Fewster Sep 25, 2015

Thanks very much, EcoGecko! And the same about your project too.

I would love to build on the volunteer engagement theme as a strong focus: conservation is all about the people who make it happen and live and work in the ecosystem. One thing we're finding is that it's important to strike a balance between flexibility and consistency - we're stepping back a bit from some of our earlier ideals about complete flexibility and currently focusing on more consistent data forms that will enable us to be sure of what we are analysing in our graphics and outputs. Within these constraints though, I'm very keen to explore the possibilities of working with other apps like Sam's and Peter Handford's. We're not planning to develop into the mobile space ourselves, but we'd like to be available to help with graphics and outputs for those people who are.

We're currently working with various groups coordinated or subsidised by Auckland, Marlborough, and Waikato Councils. We have quite a range from small projects on private land to large projects with hundreds of traps. Some of these are just in the trialling phase so I'd best not name them publically just yet. I've added a few more graphics below to give a bit more of a flavour. 

Yes to all those applications - and I'm sure there are more! I hadn't thought about beech masting till we came here. Bird sightings is high on the list for future developments.

Thanks and good luck for your project too!

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EcoGecko Consultants Sep 25, 2015

I agree - conservation is very much a human activity - its the people that make it happen, not the experts. If we make conservation more accessible to the community, then so much could potentially be done!

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Sam Rye Sep 27, 2015

Super keen to open up data sets out of Volunteer Impact to allow clever peeps like yourselves to do awesome work on the data.

We're definitely more focused on how the data gets in, and how it's presented and used. I'd describe our mission more in the space of interface innovation, passive data collection, and exploring the most powerful ways to engage and manage volunteers over multiple projects and time.

Collaboration has always been up there, but as we all know - that's not a lightweight thing to suggest - time needs to be invested in relationships, finding mutual value, and maintaining tech integrations. That said, we'll be more powerful as an ecosystem of inter-operable, inter-dependent community projects, research teams and products.

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Rachel Fewster Sep 28, 2015

Yes, wise words, Sam. That's one great thing about what WWF is doing here - establishing a community so that we can all know what's out there and at least have a collaborative spirit in principle. On our side, we've occasionally looked into joining CatchIT with other ideas at the infrastructure level, but it quickly ends up in the too-hard basket. Instead we're focusing on making exported data compatible across systems - if we can all export our data into CSVs with much the same column headings, then we have real collaborative potential to merge strengths on graphics and reporting. 

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The Forest Bridge Trust Sep 25, 2015

We've been using CatchIT at the Mataia Restoration Project.

The graphics are amazing - where most of our rats are etc.

We just need an app to upload the data automatically. So many errors from trap to notebook, notebook to computer!

The Forest Bridge Trust has very much appreciated Rachel's support for the CatchIT School project that we have been piloting. The graphics the team produced were a highlight.

Children are so techno savy and having an app would just be another step in helping motivation

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EcoGecko Consultants Sep 25, 2015

I agree a mobile app would be great to upload data directly from the field. Phones are getting so smart and cheap nowadays - they're basically mini computers. I think conservation biology is eventually heading that way - and it would be really good if you were at the forefront of that frontier!

One thought - an app that could store data until it's in phone range/wi-fi spot.... then it syncs... how good would that be! That would allow for field data to be entered where there is no reception. So long as you don't drop your phone in a creek on the way back from said study site!

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Peter Handford Sep 25, 2015

Hi EcoGecko

I agree the mobile app is really useful.  We have just developed one for Trap.nz (see our separate post) that does what you say - operates offline / out of cell or wifi coverage, then syncs when you are back in coverage - uploading your trap and bait station data to the database.  The app is able to display a map of your area and traps, lines and show you navigating to your traps.  We have worked on a range of ways to simplify the field data input so its generally one touch at a trap.  The app is currently being tested as a prototype and will be more widely available in 2-3 weeks.  My experience working with a range of users is that use of a simple app is more attractive than use of a web database - but will shortly see how this pans out.  

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Lee Barry Sep 25, 2015

Status changed to Finalist
This idea has passed all the milestones and is eligible for final judging by WWF's expert panel. But feel free to keep the comments and feedback coming!

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Jonathan Boow Sep 27, 2015

Hi Rachel,

Great project. I'd like to know your thoughts on how Catch-IT and Trap-NZ (or any other web tool) might integrate. At council, we're frequently asked by groups and individuals which tool/website they should use. While diversity of options isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can be confusing as to which option to use - there ends up being pros/cons of each and often areas of overlap in terms of what they cover. I'd hope as a minimum there's some behind the scenes standardisation to allow more seamless collation of results (sounds like this might already be happening?).

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Rachel Fewster Sep 28, 2015

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for the comments. I just added another comment above in response to Sam that overlaps as well. I think one thing worth mentioning is that we and Trap-NZ (and a couple of other groups) were all developing our tools without knowing about each other at first. These things take quite a while to develop (much longer than expected in my case!) and so there was quite a lag before we had something useful enough to start publicising - then we discovered that there were other people doing very similar things and we all bubbled to the surface at much the same time. As we all came from different backgrounds we all had slightly different slants on what we had done and where we were going.

I've met with Peter Handford and Daniel Bar-Even of Trap-NZ, and I think I speak for all of us that we're all keen to collaborate to make the best possible result for the conservation sector. The difficulty is (as mentioned above) it's hard to merge software systems, so the best thing for the moment seems to be to continue with our major developments but keep maintaining consistency of exported data, so for example if Trap-NZ send me a spreadsheet of their data, I can pretty easily use it to create the graphics and animations that CatchIT users get. Eventually (if Peter and Daniel want this) it should be relatively straightforward to implement our CatchIT graphics as an add-on for Trap-NZ. I'd be very happy to share our code to this effect.

As to which option a community group should go for today ... this is a tricky question. Although our collaborations are planned, they aren't ready yet. So for example if a group wanted CatchIT graphics capability, they would probably get the graphics sooner if they joined CatchIT. I haven't used Trap-NZ myself - just had a quick look inside when meeting with Peter and Daniel - but my impression is that their interface is very smooth and they're probably ahead of us in terms of interface and data capture. They are moving into mobile data capture at the moment and we don't have plans or expertise to go that route - though if someone else develops a mobile app that creates a CatchIT upload-CSV it would be easy enough to create the link. I'm not sure but I think CatchIT might be easier to use than Trap-NZ if your projects and traplines are large, because we set everything up so that all the baits have pre-decided defaults, so all the users have to do is scroll to the traps that made catches and enter what they caught. Perhaps Peter has comments to make about this?

Overall, I think Peter and Daniel are more focused on the front-end interface, and we are more focused on graphics and analyses, which we can keep developing into the forseeable future. I think we produce some good outputs now and we'll be producing more and more over the coming years. 

I'm sure this is more detail than you wanted Jonathan! I hope I've accurately reflected the state of play. As you say, at present we are aiming at compatibility of exported data rather than a common infrastructure, and in our case this means we are very happy to create wrappers that enable our graphics to be run on spreadsheets exported from other software. Meanwhile we're aiming to keep developing our front-end interface (hence the current application to WWF!) but in the end our overriding goal is to do the best for the community groups out there. My philosophy is to let the principles of Darwinism come into play to determine whether 10 years down the line we end up with one common interface, or alternatively reach an equilibrium with a few slightly different but mutually compatible tools.

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Jonathan Boow Sep 28, 2015

thanks Rachel,- more than happy to see the detail you provided. I hear you on the 'principles of Darwinism', i guess i'm advocating for less speciation and therefore less future extinctions(!)... or to put it more positively - i'm encouraging early inter-breeding

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Rachel Fewster Sep 28, 2015

Nice one Jonathan! I'll be happy to hybridise down the line if it seems this is the best way to go - and in the meantime focus on a fruitful reciprocal altruism.  :-)

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Peter Handford Sep 29, 2015

Hi Rachel, Jonathan.  Fruitful reciprocal altruism - very nice, yes Trap.nz is into that.

Following up on your earlier post Rachel,  I think your summary of the relationships is pretty close.  We are particularly focused on an easy interface and data capture, plus immediate interactive reporting (simple heatmaps, charts etc).  We are not likely to go down the track of detailed analysis - so I've always felt there is a logical collaboration around trap.nz focusing on data capture and initial feedback - with Catch IT providing deeper science and graphics behind that.

Re the simplicity of data entry across large projects - we have done quite a bit of work on this since you last looked.  Traps or bait stations can be selected across lines, areas or the project and data entry presets applied to the whole lot - which makes data entry very quick



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