This is the final blog post for the annual Sanctuaries of NZ meeting (SONZ) and follows on from summaries of Day 1 and Day 2. Longer talks featured on Day 3 with ample time set aside for participants to tease out discussions. Presentations covered conservation funding (Marie Brown, Senior Policy analyst, Catalyst Group); regional and national predator free initiatives (Brent Beavan, DOC and Ed Chignell, CEO, Predator Free 2050); the role of regional councils in biodiversity conservation (Jonathon Streat, Director of Operations, Environment Southland) and collaboration between biodiversity restoration projects and agencies (Kevin Parker, Parker Conservation).
The themes discussed below simultaneously overlap and interlock. Although they came to the fore on Day 3, they were threaded throughout Days 1 and 2. Expanding on these themes while exploring the detail remains central to enhancing the efficacy of both community and agency-led conservation.
It’s been 40 y of changing ecological knowledge
What we now know (and take for granted) about pests makes previously held beliefs seem quaint… or just bizarre. It is hard to believe that 40 y ago, statements were being made that rats could not be eradicated from islands. Impacts were misunderstood: David Towns (Day 1) revealed that in the 1960s kiore (Rattus exulans) were widely believed to be ‘harmless vegetarians’. However, we may have some way to go before pragmatic American conservationist Aldo Leopard’s 1949 statement that ‘…in our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial’. Kevin Parker applied this to species translocations: assuming they are easy and automatically successful is a risk, and that evidence-based decisions are needed. Once again, a case for robust, integrated outcome monitoring.
Building ecological knowledge
While a focus of PF2050 is on ‘breakthough science’ solutions, Jo Ritchie emphasized that ‘no one tool works – there is no silver bullet’ and that there is still plenty to learn. Maj de Porter (Community Waitakere) highlighted gaps in understanding of how animals adapt to fill niches – how will mice behave in the absence of rats over time. On Maungatautari Mountain, for example, mice reached high densities and their body size increased.
Kevin also stressed need to move from a bird focus into true ecosystem restoration: reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, threatened plants and predators such as weka. He also pointed out that bird dispersal from Sanctuaries is not well measured and to ensure that claims made about new populations establishing adjacent to Sanctuaries are based on science.
…and 20 y of changing attitudes to conservation
The pace of change in the perception and status of conservation over a 20 y period has been rapid. Predator-free is now mainstream: Wellington now boasts 43 of 52 suburbs undertaking predator trapping. The attitudinal shift is also reflected in the significant sums from philanthropic trusts (e.g., Tindall, Next and Morgan Foundations) that have been invested into restoration and predator control projects. High profile projects such as Rotoroa Is. have received sufficient philanthropic support to reflect the actual cost of restoration, rather than having to scale back works and stage management over decades.
However, to better understand the (current) attitude of public agencies toward community conservation Colin Campbell-Hunt (Orokonui) suggested using a Bayesian approach for the proposition: ‘Is there adequate evidence that the community sector is crucial to achieving conservation in New Zealand?’
Investing in community conservation
Marie Brown in her recent report emphasized the difficult and messy structures currently in place for sourcing community conservation funding. She also underlined the lack of ability to demonstrate the value of the funding investment and the weak alignment with conservation priorities. A lack of leadership compounds the issues that there is no plan for all players in place to determine what the wider conservation objectives are and how everyone can help. A complicating factor is the lack of an up to date Biodiversity Strategy, the last being published in 2000 and an update not available until late 2019. To move forward, Marie has 4 recommendations:
- Establish an overarching structure: a nationally and regionally linked conservation institution
- Develop a national strategic conservation plan to prioritise conservation effort and actors
- Align public funding of conservation activities with conservation needs
- Enhance funding systems: streamline, enhance accountability and outcome focused
Funding ecological and/or social outcomes
The proposal that to target funding at projects of ecological significance so that improved outcomes for biodiversity connected to conservation priorities results precipitated plenty of discussion. Part of Marie’s argument here is that if funding for biodiversity enhancement or restoration is provided, then demonstrable outcome for biodiversity should result. ‘We don’t want to have social outcomes dressed up as ecological outcomes’.
Alan Saunders (Waikato Regional Council) stressed that social interaction is a driver for many volunteers engaging in conservation. This was reiterated by Maj De Poorter (Community Waitakere) who felt that not enough credit was given to the social effects of engagement in conservation. Marie highlighted a pervasive gap in the literature linking individual engagement in conservation to ecological outcomes. At the same time, the issue of agenda-setting and the autonomy of community was also raised and how top-down approaches to conservation vs bottom-up can be reconciled.
On a fundamental level, Jo Ritchie (Ecologist) reminded participants that volunteers are costed out at $15p/h – well under minimum wage. Conservation cannot occur without people and continuing to undervalue administrative costs undermines groups’ sustainability as well as their ability to scale up their projects.
Jessie Morgan (PFNZ Trust) suggested that ‘The gold standard for community conservation should come from DOC. The agency is currently reviewing their Community Fund addressing e.g., funding gaps for group admin; extending time scales for up to 5 y; funding successful projects not just new ones as well as easing the application process. An enviromental sector scan for the Rata Foundation by Karen Denyer (National Wetland Trust) also included tips for funders to employ as does Marie’s report.
How do Sanctuaries fit into the bigger conservation picture?
The conservation landscape is dynamic. Predator Free 2050 CEO Ed Chignell outlined three current projects that build on and scale up existing initiatives: Taranaki Maunga, Hawkes Bay (which builds on Cape to City and Poutiri Ao o Tane but with a focus on possum eradication from the 14,500 ha Mahia peninsula) and Wellington. In development are D’Urville Is, Waiheke Is, Pureora and Dunedin. He expects to leverage a further $103 million from an initial $24 million investment in these projects.
John Innes (Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and a leader of the Sancutaries movement) again questioned how sanctuaries fit with these larger initiatives. The example was raised of the ‘core and buffer’ approach used at Zealandia and Orokonui. In both cases, this has precipitated larger landscape approaches to predator control by linking in with existing initiatives and creating new ones to fill gaps. One aspect is sharing research results and best practice: Jo Ritchie pointed out that sanctuary groups can provides an ‘intimate knowledge of the environment’. However, this still leaves questions of how Sanctuary groups can secure the best leverage from larger conservation and predator free initiatives.
Enhancing communication and the flow of information across the multi-layered community-agency conservation landscape is a challenge. One participant remarked that agencies have had to learn to face outwards to work with the public but don’t necessarily have processes in place for this – they are all designed internally to suit internal purposes.
There is widespread consensus that collaboration underpins successful conservation. However, developing a shared vision and objectives takes time. Jonathon Streat mentioned that it took 3 y to write the Regional Council thinkpiece on biodiversity. As David Towns explained, negotiations for carrying out predator control can take many years when historical, cultural, legal factors come into play.
Building a sense of place
Brent Beavan proposed that place-based restoration occur in tandem with a focus on regional economic development. He emphasized that developing a sense of place and local ownership of projects is critical within a national-scale programme that lacks a more nuanced approach to conservation and resource allocation. Designing regional plans will ultimately support place-based conservation.
Framing is also critical: on Day 1, Margaret Stanley discussed shifting the focus in the Northwest Wildlink Project (Auckland) from conservation to being in ‘our big backyard’. Images of the public engaging in fun, recreational activities that all rely on our (beautiful) environment simultaneously builds an intimate yet broad connection to the wider landscape, while also avoiding the dichotomy of greeny/non-greeny. Auckland has a growing population that doesn’t engage with sanctuaries and islands. For Maj de Poorter, there is a need to focus on the local where biodiversity spin-offs e.g., having tui in the backyard, can also occur.
Interestingly, Brent also commented that ‘DOC hasn’t found a way of bringing people along for the [conservation] journey, besides telling stories’ prompting a response from the floor that this is core business for Sanctuaries and the longevity and growth of the movement is clear evidence. Stories form the basis of many community group newsletters and are at the heart of slick new videos produced for large scale Predator Free NZ projects. There is however an opportunity here to tease out successful approaches from individual sanctuary groups.
Overall the 3-day SONZ meeting was invigorating and inspiring, having brought together a dynamic cross section of conservation stalwarts as well as newer members. Despite the focus by the media on predator control initiatives, a core principle of successful conservation centres on coming together face to face to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Collaboration – the theme of this year’s meeting could well have been the theme for each previous meeting, as well as those into the future.