Research Snapshot #2

Community group restoration objectives

Over a few short weeks in September last year, nearly 300 NZ community groups responded to an email questionnaire.

Two main themes were explored – the scope and nature of groups and their projects, and how groups measure restoration success. I use the ‘term community group’ very broadly in this study – it covers a spectrum from formally established groups e.g., with a paid coordinator to others that are more informal, meeting e.g., only when some practical work needs to be done.

Interestingly, there are no major changes to the overall pattern of responses from the first Research Snapshot posted in October last year – the additional responses just add more power to the numbers.

Regardless of the level of formality, most groups that responded a well-established: a staggering 80% of groups have been around for more than 6 years. Though Auckland is by far the most populous and densely settled region (1,529,300 people) ahead population wise of both Wellington and Canterbury, it’s actually the Waikato (418,500 people) that has most groups overall, with around 128 (on my database). Reasons (purely my own thoughts here!) may be a combination of support, relatively easy access to a range of diverse, valuable but degraded landscapes, the presence of endangered iconic species such as kokako, mistletoe and kiwi and an ethic of practical stewardship…

I’ve pored over groups’ objectives and when distilled into the top 50 most used words (the larger the word, the more frequent its use), it’s easy to see the values and concerns that shape groups’ projects. Looking at the word cloud, bringing back what belongs in New Zealand – our native flora and fauna, forms the backbone of many restoration projects. But “Community” also features. This isn’t a reference to plant or animal communities, it’s about people. Though spades and predator traps may be important, practical work enables relationships grow and flourish. Community building is a reason why so many of these groups exist, and why they are sustained over the years.

The blending of social, political and ecological components is what makes this study so interesting. In reality, they can’t be separated out. Looking at monitoring, for example, helps to better understand where community environmental restoration fits into the national picture. The minute you start talking about groups’ monitoring data and how it is used or might be used – particularly beyond the scope of groups’ own restoration projects, a level of politics enters. While some may be dubious of groups’ data quality, groups themselves appear to have enough confidence in their data to use it e.g., for supporting management decisions, writing submissions on environmental matters, quantifying outcomes of funding as well supporting applications for further funds.

The national picture is being fleshed out through interviews with ‘community supporters’ i.e. Department of Conservation and Regional Council staff, and scientists at universities and research institutes. At the same time, regularly attending and presenting at community events provides an opportunity both for gathering feedback and gaining deeper insights into how groups operate.

The task of data analysis is ongoing. The first step is to examine responses from each question individually, but the real richness is revealed when several questions are grouped together and analysed. When it comes to doing this, having a partner skilled in statistics is a real bonus… little does he know that there’ll also be numerous rounds of proof-reading and shoulder massages too…

Word cloud from Wordle.net and population numbers from http://www.stats.govt.nz

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5 responses to “Research Snapshot #2

  1. Hi Monica, enjoyed this. I have a question though – do you think that there really are more community groups per head of population in the waikato or have you just found more? Perhaps your networks are better there so you get a better response?

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    • HI – that’s a difficult question and one I can only really guess at. Most of the groups on the database I created are from publicly available sites (e.g., Nature Space, DOC, Forest & Bird) so my final number of 540 groups nationally is most likely just the tip of the iceberg. There are probably many more groups out there, but who don’t have a web presence, aren’t linked to, or perhaps don’t even identify with the wider ‘environmental restoration community’. The Waikato is an interesting case, and yes, being based here does provide an advantage. The networks here are very strong – mainly because of the Waikato Biodiversity Forum (www.waikatobiodiversity.org.nz) which among other things is mandated to ‘…encourage agencies and groups to network, share ideas and work together to protect and enhance biodiversity’. The Forum does more however than just encourage, it is very active. Along with maintaining a database of groups undertaking restoration projects, the Forum also runs numerous events including training workshops, networking days etc. which are always very well attended. The Waikato Regional Council also runs networking days and there are further community events run by the NZ Landcare Trust (www.landcare.org.nz). Major funding sources in the region include the Waikato River Authority, the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust and the Regional Council’s Environmental Initiative Fund also support group on ground works. I wasn’t joking about the degraded landscapes in the post – parts of this very ecologically diverse region are heavily modified. We could easily do with twice the number of groups!

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  2. Hi Monica

    Thanks for update and interesting reading.

    We have put together a bit of an application to ME Community Env Fund.

    A summary and the full application are enclosed. Decided to try and make things happen ourselves in terms of leadership rather than try and get govt/council agencies to lead / co lead something. Some excellent letters of support that I can also send if you have any interest.

    The proposal is based around Citizen Science and mainland pest free cluster developments.

    One interesting issue I find is that for community landcare / catchment groups there is no umbrella group to bring folk together. NZ Landcare Trust are perhaps best placed to do so but with their current trust set up do not have a Landcare Rep. Also resources are a limiting factor.

    What are your thoughts? The first question is is there a need for an umbrella? Perhaps to take good ideas beyond local there is?

    Happy New Year

    Andrew

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    • HI Andrew
      Great to see more initiatives in the Citizen Space – when I think back even over the last 2 years, there has been a some rapid development with new tools (monitoring kits, apps), projects (both community and scientist-led) and awareness around the potential value of community generated environmental monitoring data.

      The idea of clusters is a good one – I’m all for efficiency given the tight resourcing for groups and their activities. Clustering with like-minded groups in a geographical area will have a lot of spin offs not only for bulk purchase but also for coordinating e.g., control operations. A win-win I reckon.

      As for a community umbrella group, it really depends what role you see that group as having – advocacy? practical assistance e.g., for training in monitoring methods? fundraising? There is an initiative currently under development by the name of the Conservation Alliance (no website yet). The CA has a strong advocacy focus with the aim of lobbying government for greater resourcing of community restoration initiatives; another umbrella-type group is Nature Space (Naturespace.org.nz). Nature Space is an online forum for community groups that is steadily evolving to meet community needs e.g., providing links to useful resources, event calendars etc. More than 200 groups have registered to date.

      That’s about where things are currently at – but as I mentioned, the community restoration/ citizen science space is very dynamic so who knows what’s next?

      Kind regards,
      Monica

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