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 comparatively vulnerable biota at the outset due to evolutionary and biogeographic factors.
These advantages position us well to tackle the biodiversity challenge, and to do so while building ecological resilience, providing a strong future for primary industries dependent on natural resources, and both proclaiming and reflecting our ‘100% Pure’ brand. But to unleash these advantages, and protect the public interest in a healthy environment and flourishing native biodiversity, strategic change is needed. Regulatory solutions will get us some of the way, and technical solutions even further. But profound and enduring change will take bigger shifts on bigger scales.
This is a call to arms for our natural heritage.
Our vision for conservation of indigenous biodiversity in New Zealand is one of inclusion, collaboration and engagement; an ‘all-in’ approach that provides for participation from all sectors of the community. Transparent and accountable agencies maintain an emphasis on evidence-based conservation planning and prioritisation, to ensure national biodiversity goals are set, and the conservation effort is directed at them as efficiently and effectively as possible. Agencies exercise their functions in an environmentally sympathetic manner, are much less vulnerable to agency capture, and are more focused on outcomes rather than outputs. They take full responsibility for the outcomes achieved.
Our vision includes an adequately funded and fully functional Department of Conservation that forms enduring partnerships with other stakeholders to protect, maintain and restore natural heritage. This is alongside regional councils who are champions of biodiversity protection, particularly on private land. Strong national leadership from both DOC and the oft-absent Ministry for the Environment use their roles to affect the best outcomes. In partnership with iwi and hapū, conservation agencies and groups participate enthusiastically in co-management agreements, which become commonplace. Financial penalties are in place for nature-degrading activities and are sufficient to alter behaviour and drive innovation in all sectors.
With far greater secure funding and technical assistance, community conservation thrives at a much greater scale, with flax-roots achievements making a powerful contribution to the retention of our natural heritage. Landowners and developers resolutely take on a stewardship role for the biodiversity on their properties, and are incentivised and supported to do so. Interventions from environmental policy initiatives to on-the-ground species recovery work are subject to a strong culture of rigorous monitoring, evidence-based evaluation and review. Interventions are prioritised and then evaluated according to the difference they make to securing New Zealand’s biodiversity.
The vision we outline is certainly attractive for many reasons, but achieving it will be no small feat. It relies on behavioural changes at multiple levels and over different timescales. The key tasks can be grouped into six issues to be addressed:
• Funding for conservation
• Aligning divergent interests
• Public mobilisation
• Accountability and monitoring
• Effective legislation, implemented well
• Enhanced front-line conservation
Substantial advances on each of these six issues are needed to halt biodiversity decline and the processes that beget it directly and indirectly: this will involve a mix of strategic, tactical and practical solutions. The right mix will maintain and develop our prosperity. It will do this by putting us on a path for sustainable economic growth that is no longer founded on environmental depletion.
Progress so far
In the year since Vanishing Nature was released, EDS has worked hard to follow through, presenting key messages from the book to as many audiences as possible and providing specificity to development related solutions in the follow-up publication ‘Pathways to Prosperity’ and also the land use intensity tax idea and improvements to the use of biodiversity offsets in articles published in a recent special edition of Policy Quarterly. Our 2015 conference ‘Wild Things: addressing terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity loss’ was our largest ever, bringing together more than 300 people to discuss progress on biodiversity management and the road ahead. We have donated hundreds of copies to key persons, including the CEOs of all regional councils and unitary authorities.
Media uptake was significant following the book’s launch and good, but less intense, coverage continues. Several universities and high schools have drawn the book into their curriculum and more than 20 organisations have requested talks and seminars based on the book and subsequent work by the lead authors. These invitations continue today. We have had numerous useful interactions with government departments and councils and will continue to develop that dialogue. Our key message is that biodiversity loss is not inevitable, it is a choice.
As I conclude this series, I’d like to extend special thanks to Dr Theo Stephens who has helped produce each and every blog and indeed all the media and the book itself in his own time. Further thanks are due to the funders of the publication, those that have purchased it and the staff of EDS for their consistent support. Special thanks are also due to the team at the Science Media Centre for their support in the production of these blogs!
In March 2015, the Environmental Defence Society published a critical analysis of biodiversity management in New Zealand in a book titled Vanishing Nature: facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis. This blog series draws out the key issues. If you’d like to buy the book follow this link.
Featured image: Flickr CC, Stewart Baird.