Marie Brown

Marie is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Environmental Defence Society, a long-running Auckland-based NGO, and lead author of Vanishing Nature: facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis. Her research interests include ecology and conservation, compliance and enforcement of environmental law and environmental policy.

Part 9 Vision: Biodiversity loss is not inevitable: it is a choice – your choice! - The Nature of Things

Mar 24, 2016

New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity is in crisis – a crisis of state and trend, a crisis of governance and a crisis of public engagement – because the fundamental drivers of loss have not been addressed. What follows is the vision articulated in Vanishing Nature to bring solutions together and identify progress in communicating it. New Zealand has a great many existing advantages: a dedicated national agency for nature conservation; a group of councils increasingly equipped and willing to play their part in addressing biodiversity loss; a private sector with growing interest in contributing positively to conservation outcomes; indigenous peoples with large land-holdings actively involved in conservation; a mature community conservation sector of considerable size and capability; and a history of ably tackling once insurmountable conservation problems through innovative science and research. This is in spite of a … Read More

Part 8: Solving the biodiversity crisis - The Nature of Things

Mar 18, 2016

Over the past several weeks I’ve unpacked the essence of Vanishing Nature, pointing out where the fundamental drivers of the loss of nature appear throughout our economy and institutions. The worrisome state of our national conservation agency (DOC) is a manifestation of politically sanctioned agency capture promoting low priority to safeguarding nature over competing government priorities. On private land, obsessions with short-term private profit irrespective of public costs have diminished and degraded the commons without the recompense for the public that natural justice demands. Socialisation of environmental costs has affected freshwater ecosystems most severely, and the muddled regulatory context for freshwater means even if there are solutions, they are rarely adopted. Water quality and freshwater ecosystem intactness are pretty much commensurate with its distance from humans. Read More

Part 7 – Community conservation won’t save biodiversity - The Nature of Things

Mar 11, 2016

Community conservation is a real jewel in the crown of New Zealand’s conservation effort. Many thousands of kiwis fight for kiwis every weekend: trapping, weeding, building tracks, running tours and building community links to nature. Community groups, iwi organisations, private sector inputs, the philanthropic sector and landowners toil admirably. But this won’t save biodiversity. Community conservation should not substitute adequate resources for our publicly funded conservation agencies. Its role should be complementary. The efforts of volunteers should be additive to both the national-scale efforts of DOC and the regional-scale efforts of councils publicly funded for the benefit of us all.  The Department of Conservation enthusiastically touts the achievements of community groups, with little regard to their capability and the missed outcomes for high priority biodiversity conservation – missed because resources are diverted to … Read More

Part 6: The ultimate commons - The Nature of Things

Mar 04, 2016

Clocking in at more than 20 times New Zealand’s land area, our marine environment is extraordinary and full of biodiversity we have yet to even describe. But weak and dysfunctional governance renders protection of marine biodiversity from ongoing decline almost impossible. Our ‘big blue backyard’ faces key issues, particularly the absences of a staunch statutory advocate, effective conservation models and a decent framework for planning and resource allocation. Limited scientific research leaves us with a lot of uncertainty due to poor knowledge of marine ecosystems. And on top of these domestic drivers are the global pressures of the impact of climate change, ocean acidification and invasions of marine pests. In Vanishing Nature, we demonstrated that the property rights of the fishing industry were unreasonably dominant in the marine environment. Read More

Part 5: Water runs downhill - The Nature of Things

Feb 26, 2016

New Zealand’s freshwater bodies are as revered as they are imperiled. Despite decades of law devoted to protecting freshwater ecosystems and safeguarding water quality in some way or other, the decline in freshwater biodiversity is startling. Lakes, wetlands, estuaries, streams and rivers are home to a pretty incredible array of wildlife that is in deep trouble. While some effort in addressing point source pollution is obvious, the overall decline continues and indeed has accelerated in many regions. So – given the plethora of regulatory protections and safeguards – how have our freshwater ecosystems become so severely degraded? Sometimes it’s because the problems can’t be addressed, sometimes it’s because nobody will address them and other times it’s because it’s just bloody expensive. Agency capture, abetted by poor institutional alignment wriggles to the fore when we look at the state of … Read More

Part 4 – Conservation – it’s a private matter - The Nature of Things

Feb 19, 2016

Conservation on private land is a story of the good and the bad.  Of the remaining privately-owned natural habitat, at least 350,000 hectares are legally protected by covenant of one sort or another.  The Queen Elizabeth II National Trust recently registered their four thousandth covenant making a total of 180,000 hectares protected for open space values. Nga Whenua Rahui covenants protect some 171,000 hectares and multiple other covenanting schemes through the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game, councils and the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust protect thousands more hectares under various management regimes. The bad news is that the remaining unprotected majority is being cleared, and quickly. But there is no definitive source for the rate of habitat loss because monitoring has been … Read More

Part 3: A wounded gatekeeper – what’s up, DOC? - The Nature of Things

Feb 12, 2016

Many countries don’t have a centralised conservation agency like New Zealand has, but do these gatekeepers have the backing to stem environmental degradation and biodiversity loss? Last week I set out the three fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss: Market failure for biodiversity Regulatory failure due to agency capture and the power of private interests Perverse incentives that lead politicians to accumulate costs for future generations Together, these drivers create the barriers to conservation seen throughout the economy. Unless we address those fundamental drivers and bring down the barriers, nature will continue to vanish. How have they impacted the Department of Conservation since its creation 29 years ago? Most obvious is the gap between the scale of Department’s conservation task and its funding. DOC is tasked with protecting (such as through pest control and other interventions) one third of our … Read More

Part 2: What’s really driving loss of nature in New Zealand? - The Nature of Things

Feb 05, 2016

Last week I demonstrated that despite a proud history of conservation and environmental management, New Zealand is still fast losing its natural heritage and, with it, our future prosperity. Addressing that requires some reframing of what conservation is for New Zealand, and recognition that doing more of the same might slow ongoing loss but cannot reverse the trend. The things usually seen as barriers to effective conservation and environmental management (e.g. inappropriate development, weak compliance with consent conditions, under-funded pest control and threatened species management) are actually symptoms of fundamental drivers that set up conflict between environmental and development interests and bring about the loss of nature. The fundamental drivers are: Biodiversity is failed by markets, as its value (market and non-market, use and non-use) is generally excluded from transactions. We … Read More

Part 1: A proud history of conservation - The Nature of Things

Jan 29, 2016

The extraordinary specialness of our wildlife and ecosystems is internationally renowned. New Zealand is a global biodiversity hotspot with deep time endemism. This means that not only are things here pretty special, but they’ve been that way for millions of years. A unique identity for New Zealanders has been forged from this environment, and our natural capital has phenomenal economic value, particularly as the underpinning for agriculture and the lure for tourism: together our two largest industries. In less than a thousand years, this age-old natural world was irreversibly changed by a succession of colonisations. The visible alterations to the land and seascapes triggered waves of environmental caring that have been a recurrent feature of New Zealand society for at least a century. One expression of this is the plethora of legal obligations for environmental protection and stewardship, including … Read More

We need to talk about how we fund conservation - The Nature of Things

Oct 23, 2015

Environment Aotearoa 2015 confirmed what many of us already knew: our natural heritage is in serious trouble.[i] Despite decades of law, policy and grass-roots conservation initiatives our biodiversity is rapidly declining because of habitat loss, fragmentation and change; pollution; impacts of invasive species; macro scale changes such as ocean acidification and a host of other negative pressures, and we now boast the highest proportion of threatened species in the world.[ii] These negative impacts generally arise from economic development activity that yields significant profits and has very limited liability for its large environmental externalities.[iii] The economy has trumped nature over and over again in New Zealand and the data reflect this. Our ‘clean and green’ crown has slipped into a trough. The squeeze is on In order to safeguard nature, (usually) publicly-funded efforts … Read More