WAI Wānaka pushing community-driven strategies for biodiversity in New Zealand

WAI Wānaka pushing community-driven strategies for biodiversity in New Zealand

After spending 40 years in ecology, conservation and other similar areas as a University lecturer, Profesor David Norton has officially retired from University life. 

To occupy his time now, Professor Norton has turned his hand to helping the WAI Wānaka project, a big project around Upper Clutha waterways in particular putting together a biodiversity strategy for the Upper Clutha area.

The project emphasises collaboration among various groups to protect and enhance the region's natural ecosystems. 

"Working with people on the ground is going to result in real changes" he says, acknowledging  the importance of "working with both individual farmers and catchment groups, and WAI Wānaka is a big catchment group." 

Highlighting the positive shift in how farmers perceive their role in the environment, Professor Norton says, "Farmers aren't biodiversity experts, they're farmers... If you can help them understand what they've got and why it's important, then they become really engaged with it." 

This shift is partly due to educational efforts that help farmers understand the value of biodiversity within their land management practices, fostering a sense of pride and engagement in conservation efforts. Professor Norton also touches on the nuances of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs), which have been a contentious topic. 

He believes they can be both a hindrance and a help, suggesting a balanced approach. 

"I think there are significant areas of natural vegetation across rural New Zealand, but it's about how we package it and how we market it... it's about picking out the things that are really significant, not just everything." 

The conversation also delves into the political aspect of conservation. Professor Norton emphasises the importance of finding common ground and working past ideological differences for the sake of effective environmental stewardship. 

"If farmers know why it's important and they understand its value and farmers are valued for looking after it, then they'll want to look after it," he states, advocating for recognition and support of farmers' efforts in nurturing the land. 

This conversation showcases the intricate relationship between agriculture and conservation in New Zealand, underlining the crucial role that community involvement, education, and farmer engagement play in preserving the country's unique biodiversity. 

Professor Norton's insights and experiences serve as a call to action for continued dialogue and cooperation to achieve sustainable land stewardship.

Listen to the full chat between David Norton and Dominic George above.

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