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