Heavens aligning for fiery possum cure

Possum skins burnt to ashes under the right alignment of the Moon and stars could be an alternative to 1080, says a group which wants a $330,000 ratepayer-funded trial to test it.

But skeptics have labelled the suggestion as "complete nonsense". The technique, possum peppering, was proposed by philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.

A trial proposal to Environment Waikato suggests that ashes from hundreds of possum skins be mixed with quarry dust and applied by helicopter in the Maratoto catchment at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula to test its effect.

"The method requires an understanding of how energies from the universe affect life on Earth," the funding application said. "The appropriate alignment of Earth, Moon, Venus and Scorpio at the time of burning is necessary if the method is to work well and possums are best harvested at this time. The carbon from the burnt skin interferes with the reproductive energy of the possum."

Backers of the proposal said they were aware the method and its philosophies were "not easily accepted by many scientists", but said the trial would be the first to attempt robust scientific explanation.

Proposal co-author Garry Blake said he hoped trial funding would be allocated from $70,000 left in council budgets from deferred possum control or a grant from its Environmental Initiatives Fund. He said Lincoln University research in 1992 was cited by some scientists as having proved the method did not work, but added that researchers had not applied the ashes to damp soil as required.

"My role has been to try and break the barrier between these ideas that are hard to comprehend and the real world," Mr Blake said. He hoped EW would approve $120,000 to set up the trial, with the balance needed over the following four years. The ideas were tested on a limited scale at the end of 1998 with funding from the Tindall Foundation and EW. Monitoring then showed possum numbers in the trial area increased.

NZ Skeptics chair Vicki Hyde dismissed the proposed trial as "layers of wishful thinking". "On the face of it, this is complete nonsense. But some basic lab trials could test this – but it should be done on their own dime and time."

Waikato Times