By Jamie Steer 23/12/2018

Some final comments from my interview with Kim Hill: 

‘It’s a very defeatist way of looking at things, and I don’t buy it!’

‘Please make him stop! He’s such a defeatist!’

‘So, the answer is don’t care? Do whatever?!’ 

A lot of people who advocate for novel ecosystems and new approaches in ecology and our understandings of nature and the environment are labelled as defeatist. We’re losers; quitters. But again the very notion of defeatism shows just how one-sided the conversation has been to date. A lot of people really do have the belief that there is only one way of seeing in this space and that it would be unacceptable to consider different views.

You often get this quite conceited assertion from New Zealand ecologists, in particular, that you’d have to be ignorant to think differently about many species or ecosystems – something that I personally find quite remarkable.

The science writer Emma Marris wrote a very good article for the journal Nature back in 2009 on the values of novel ecosystems. In it, she interviewed a young PhD student, Joe Mascaro, who was studying novel ecosystems in the forests of Hawaii at the time. She wrote that:

‘Standing in his Hawaiian forest, Mascaro is all too aware of change – it is something he values, even if humans did have a hand in the process. He never swore allegiance to preserving ecosystems as they were before humans arrived, as many conservationists of an older generation did.

And she quoted him as saying:

“People come up to me and say ‘it sounds like you’ve given up,’’’

To which he responds:

“I want to say ‘I never took up arms, my man’. This isn’t about conceding defeat; it is about a new approach” (in Marris, 2009).

That approach, I would add, is informed not only by an affection and respect for native species, but also for the thousands of species that we’ve introduced and that we also have a responsibility for in this country. It’s an approach that’s informed by a genuine appreciation that the environment in New Zealand has fundamentally changed since people arrived and will not be able to be restored now.

New Zealand’s biodiversity is going to keep changing, but not all of those changes are necessarily bad. And we don’t have to look at people as the bad guys all the time. We have this incredible diversity of life in New Zealand that’s being derived, like our human communities, from all around the world. All of our ecosystems, whether native or novel, are completely unique and all of the species within them – both native and introduced – have fascinating ecological and social histories that deserve to be celebrated

I’d put it to you that some of the ways that we’ve come to understand our environment in New Zealand don’t serve us well anymore. Many of our attitudes toward wildlife now come across as excessively blinkered, old-fashioned and inaccurate. That’s why I think we need to start thinking a whole lot less about how wildlife was in the past and a whole lot more about how it could be in future.

For me, that future is going to be diverse, vibrant, and full of novelty and surprise. It’s going to be characterised by constant change, reassembly and reinvigoration. Ultimately, I see it as Historian Erik Rolls saw it back in 1981, as:

‘feral, mongrel, hybrid nature, nature stirred up, nature [actually] enlivened by [our] human presence [and influences]’.

Read the final instalment here. Or begin at the start of this series.

Featured image © Flickr

0 Responses to “From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 10 – Winners never quit”

  • Why do you say that humans have a ‘responsibility’ for introduced species, as if it is a fact? Presumably you mean that they should be protected? Do you want to live in a New Zealand where every house has recurrent rodent infestations, poultry farms routinely lose thousands of dollars’ worth of birds every time a stoat or ferret breaks in, and almost every cattle herd is infected with TB? In addition to the fact that endemic and native species will disappear from most of the country?
    You say that New Zealand’s ecosystems should be allowed to become a mix of native and introduced species, but what about after almost all of the native species (not just endemics) get destroyed by the non-natives? Will you still like New Zealand’s ecosystems then?
    I don’t think you have ever mentioned the fact that even if Predator-Free 2050 is a success, there will still be a huge number of non-native species remaining. What’s wrong with the idea of getting rid of that small handful of particularly damaging non-natives, and then subjecting the remaining non-natives to regular control (which will be required in any case), without eradicating them?


  • Thanks for this series of posts Jamie. It is interesting to read Simon’s concerns, and he gives clear voice to the contemporary NZ eco-narrative – the knowledge that NZ’s unique wildlife is facing extinction and that the country stands a very real threat of being overrun by rodent plagues, disease, and left with an unmarketable meat and dairy industry.
    Narrowing the “cause and effect down” to targeting introduced species, has formed a persuasive narrative. It has effectively formed a close circuit communication; convincing the public and scientists that there is no need to explore other solutions to this crisis situation, and declaring war against both introduced species and ecologists/scientists that hold an alternative hypothesis.
    I am currently examining the history and health of waterways in Southland, and it is clear that there are gaping holes and shortcomings in the data and research from a One Health perspective (examining the interconnections between the health and wellbeing of humans, animals and the environment.)

    The map here shows contaminated waterways in Southland, around the area that is now producing dairy products for the International market: This industry is based on the assumption that NZ’s environment is pristine and the produce is safe and of premium value. This Mataura video is excellent:
    The RNZ article on the water quality in Canterbury this week is alarming:
    As is the coverage on the same day on the depletion of Southland’s wetlands:
    Questions remain unanswered: how does this contamination affect the avian population? is E-coli impacting on the Psittacine (parrot) population?; can waterfowl access contaminated sewerage ponds on the intensive dairy farms, aiding in the spread of these pathogens? what is the long term effect of agrochemical farming systems, water pollution and lethal pest control programs on NZ’s biodiversity?
    There is a cautionary Chinese proverb: yǐn shuǐ sī yuán “when drinking water, think of its source”.

  • Brilliant words, Jamie. And Simon, do you not understand this new paradigm yet? It isn’t about an ‘us & them’ mentality, it’s about respect and compassion. Why on earth should NZ have an animal abuse law, that acknowledges all species as sentient beings – apart from those arbitrarily defined by others as ‘pests’ ? All ecosystems are ever-changing, due to complex interconnecting dynamics. Time for NZ to grow up and face the realities: Poisoning our own environment for the sake of following this delusion is utterly unsustainable.

  • Yes, Monica, abusing animals in New Zealand is illegal, and this includes pests. A man was jailed for over two years for torturing possums to death in 2014.
    I never mentioned poisons. I’m under the impression that you didn’t properly read my comment at all, for that matter.


  • WOW!!! Simon Glass you really have been sucked in by the alarmists doing the poisoning of New Zealand. You think every farm will be infected by TB . New Zealand is already below the international threshhold for being declared TB free and has been for many years. There is no proof whatsoever that TB is spread by possums who have been declared as the main vector for spreading of TB. It’s an outright lie and persisted with by people making money from spreading posions and wanting to keep a money train rolling along. Farmers in this country and rate payers are being fleeced every year. It’s time these people took their snouts from the trough of public money and found some other scam to suck up other peoples money.

  • A discussion on novel ecosystems is relevant to the current governments 1BT (one billion trees) project, which in 12 short months morphed from an initiative to back-fill age class holes in the regional wood supply for sawmills (especially in Northland) – so mainly in P radiata, and to sequester atmospheric carbon in fast growing conifers (again mainly P radiata) in order to offset increases in GHG emissions ( much of which comes from farming, esp dairy) in order to give effect to NZs Paris Commitment to reduce emissions by seeking to 30% on 2007 levels by the 2030, into a national native forests re-creation ( not restoration) project. The latter will cost 5 to 25x more per ha to establish, will have much lower survival, and won’t be have sequestered any measurable carbon by 2030.

    By contrast the pending designation of plantation forests composed of alien conifers as SNAs (Significant ‘Natural’ Areas, under S6 of RMA), where they provide habitat to rare and threatened native fauna (kiwi, long tail bats, bush falcon, kea, giant land snail, native frogs and or skinks & geckos) does imply ecological (or illogical) value of novel ecosystems. This issue is currently before the Environment Court wrt the Thames Coromandel district plan.

    Where then does this leave us where old stands of Wilding Conifers are home to populations of native long tail bats (many are)?

  • The comment by Simon Glass shows exactly the kind of hysteria that should be excluded from the debate. Interestingly, he brings up economical reasons i.e. damage to human income to advocate for his support in killing on top of the usual “all natives will disappear”. This is an aspect of aerial poison supporters that never fails to amaze me. Either you are restoring ecosystems or you are supporting industry, but as intensive monoculture and a healthy ecosystem are mutually exclusive to advocate for both in the same breath is simply mind boggling.

  • Christa, everything I said was based on facts and all of the questions that I asked were reasonable. You dismissing what I say as ‘hysteria’ just takes away from the legitimacy of your viewpoint.
    Yes, pests negatively affect the economic sector as well as wreaking havoc on endemic biodiversity. There’s nothing wrong with saying that predatory pest mammals cause economic harm if that is true.


  • It’s an outright lie and persisted with by people making money from spreading posions and wanting to keep a money train rolling along.
    Conspiracy-theory much? I find it interesting that it’s usually the people opposed to a particular scientific issue who accuse others of doing it for the money. It is possible to hold a different view without being paid to do so, you know.