Bar­ton stalks bun­nies from Wales to Wanaka

Central Otago Mirror - - CLASSIFIEDS - MAR­JORIE COOK

When Billy Bar­ton played in New­port city’s con­crete gut­ters as a child, he dreamed of rab­bit­ing in Wales’ lush and ver­dant fields.

He achieved that dream and be­came a hunt­ing dog breeder to boot.

But by 2008, the qual­i­fied fab­ri­ca­tor and welder (also known in dog breed­ing cir­cles as Steve Bar­ton) wanted a change of scene.

He took a punt on New Zealand’s rab­bit-in­fested high coun­try and im­mi­grated with his favourite hunt­ing dog, Zappa, a Grey­houndGer­man Shep­herd cross named af­ter Bar­ton’s favourite mu­si­cian and film­maker, Frank Zappa.

Now Bar­ton runs one of the coun­try’s few Min­istry of Pri­mary In­dus­tries-au­tho­rised hunt­ing fer­ret and dog teams, and in April this year, he moved to Wanaka to work with John May’s Longview En­vi­ron­men­tal Trust.

His two hunt­ing fer­rets raised eye­brows at first be­cause the bird­mur­der­ing preda­tor is on the Biose­cu­rity Act’s black­list of un­wanted or­gan­isms.

How­ever, Bar­ton and the fer­rets have won peo­ple over with their work for pub­lic and pri­vate landown­ers, tak­ing out hun­dreds of rab­bits from re­serves, farms and gar­dens.

Breed­ing fer­rets is banned in New Zealand, so Bar­ton catches them in the wild, se­lects the two most docile preda­tors for train­ing, dis­patches un­suit­able can­di­dates and sends the sur­viv­ing boy to the vet for a va­sec­tomy.

Through­out his life, the fa­ther of three adult chil­dren has wo­ven his pas­sion for hunt­ing around jobs in the steel in­dus­try.

But hunt­ing is where his heart is. ‘‘I was brought up on a coun­cil es­tate. And that was just houses, as far as you could see, houses. My play­ing ground was the road and the gut­ter. I used to dream. I knew there was a river over the way . . . But we weren’t al­lowed to go. My fa­ther had a mate who used to do rab­bit­ing and all that and he said he would take me out, but he never did.’’

Even­tu­ally, Bar­ton got into fishing and in the 1980s he learned the craft of game keep­ing.

‘‘I met an old time game keeper, what you call old, old school. He was old even back then. He taught me all about trap­ping and things like that. Then I met an­other trap­per and he taught me more.’’

Bar­ton even­tu­ally took up a game keep­ing job at Black­brook Manor, Sken­frith, near the bor­der town of Mon­mouth, and he and his then wife bought their own place on the edge of a forest.

He would pit his fer­ret and dog teams against oth­ers at agri­cul­tur­al­style shows and fairs and was even­tu­ally se­lected to rep­re­sent Wales at field trial com­pe­ti­tions.

He also be­gan his 30-year ca­reer breed­ing ‘‘lurchers’’ - a type of Bri­tish work­ing dog used in pest con­trol - and con­tin­ues this pas­sion in New Zealand.

Be­fore Bar­ton moved in with his Wanaka part­ner Mary Hunt, she lived with her two daugh­ters, Jas­mine and Aca­cia, and 10-year-old white labrador, Tom.

Now, the blended fam­ily has 14 dogs and two hunt­ing fer­rets, which Mary has calmly taken in her stride.

Bar­ton’s orig­i­nal im­ported dog, Zappa, has reached the ver­i­ta­ble age of 13 and is still hang­ing on in there.

Bar­ton ad­mits but for Mary’s in­ter­ven­tion, he would have had Zappa put to sleep by now, as he has col­lapsed a bit out the back end and doesn’t do much ex­cept sit un­der a tree and smile.

An­other Grey­hound-Ger­man Shep­herd cross lurcher, Becca, is fol­low­ing in Zappa’s paw prints.

She is one of the few dogs Bar­ton has not given a Frank Zappa - themed name.

‘‘She was named af­ter a friend of mine. She’d got a ter­rier and named it Billy. That was a bit of a wind up thing, a bit of fun be­tween us.’’

MAR­JORIE COOK

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