A partnership for nature announced this week provides welcome news … and enormous challenges. A diverse coalition of funders is contributing $2m to rescue 14 critically endangered patches of native bush across Hawke’s Bay.
There’s much to like in this initiative. Half the funding comes from the Department of Conservation, reflecting the Government’s commitment to securing important ecological sites, as well as supporting regional employment. Another $600k from the Regional Council acknowledges the Council’s growing environmental responsibilities.
The QEII National Trust is contributing $225k. The 14 sites are among their 4700+ lands covenanted to protect habitat, home for indigenous species and ecological communities. Landowners, who are providing a further $120k, often receive only modest financial support for the long-term maintenance of these sites which have been removed from production. Both QEII and landowners will welcome the tangible recognition of their efforts to conserve our natural heritage – taonga for the nation.
Downsides? I consulted retired Patoka farmer and farm forester Mike Halliday, who first described the funding as “an awesome and timely boost” for private conservation efforts. He added that the deer fencing to be provided at each site “should [also] keep pigs and goats at bay”.
Mike identified two significant problems: rabbits and ongoing maintenance. Rabbits are the bane of revegetation, killing seedlings and preventing regrowth. In Mike’s view, “It is well past time that central and regional governments recognise that rabbits can no longer be seen as a ‘landowner’ problem!”
Farming and conservation communities agree. Often, 50% or more of new plantings are taken by rabbits alone, with further damage by deer, goats, and other introduced mammals.
I worry about ongoing maintenance of all conservation sites as much as Mike does. Ecological communities can recover surprisingly quickly, but until new growth is well established and protected from threats such as deer, these sites are fragile.
As Government attention predictably moves on to the next urgent need, year after year, ongoing maintenance will fall to landowners. Their ability to sustain maintenance depends on the vagaries of agricultural markets supporting the viability of farms, as well as inevitable new challenges – diseases, insects, weeds, natural disasters – floods, for example. Who pays for repairs on damaged fences or removal of deer, pigs and goats that breach damaged fences? Or when the climate changes?
For context: HBRC have prioritised for protection more than 700 high biodiversity value sites. These likely represent only about 30% of remaining high value sites in the region. Each is a fragment of far larger ecological communities that once covered our region. The 14 sites to benefit from the present initiative encompass 423 hectares, a bare 0.03% of the total area of Hawke’s Bay.
So, much work remains. Restoration of hundreds of these sites is critical to recovering healthy environments that benefit us all.
As we celebrate this significant commitment to ecological restoration, let’s remember this $2m is just the beginning of a generational project. The very best news may be the partnership that’s come together. Restoring nature to good health will take the efforts of all of us – governments at all levels, businesses, landowners, all New Zealanders.