I've been thinking lately about the consequences of the disconnect between New Zealanders' conservation ethic and conservation knowledge. We New Zealanders are typically supportive of conservation, especially in our national parks. In 2010, tens of thousands of people protested down Auckland's Queen Street when the Government contemplated mining in national parks. Yet very few of us appreciate the full extent to which we now live and work in landscapes dominated by introduced species, both cultivated and wild. Nor do most people appreciate the ongoing declines and threats to native species in many lowland landscapes. I suspect that this disconnect has a big impact on which conservation topics become big issues of public debate.For example, there has been much greater public interest in the proposed 43 km Fiordland monorail to Milford Sound than the case of a farmer destroying a QEII covenant in lowland Canterbury. The first story involves a proposed tourism operation through southern beech forest, one of the most common habitats in our Department of Conservation managed conservation land. There is the important issue here of the extent to which we allow private tourism developments on public national park land. This issue is not clear cut, as any damage done to habitats will need to be restored or mitigated, Department of Conservation (D.O.C.) is paid a concession for such operations, and D.O.C. and the conservation work it does could certainly use the money. But this is undeniably A-grade world class scenery. The second story has Federated Farmers supporting the QEII Trust's decision to take a farmer to high court for destroying a legally protected area of critically threatened habitat on his private land. We don't have an east coast dry land national park and much of what's left are small fragments of wild habitat acutely vulnerable to fires, dairy runoff, browsing, and weeds. Much of the area is in covenants on private land, often filled with rare and threatened species. These habitats are also what I expect most people would regard as ugly patches of scrub.
Medbury Reserve, one of the last areas of natural dry land woody habitat in lowland Canterbury. Most of this reserve was destroyed in an accidental fire and it is now surrounded by dairy farming. Biodiversity conservation in New Zealand is as much about these small reserves of critically rare habitats as they are about pest mammal control in National Parks or bird conservation on offshore islands.
A scaup on the Avon River. These cute little black diving ducks are common on Christchurch rivers now yet there were no more than 200 on all Christchurch waterways in the mid-1980s. Predator control and the return of natural river margins in Christchurch have seen this species rebound spectacularly to over 7000 birds. Despite this, only 13% of first year Lincoln University students know a scaup when they see one.
Wild kahikatea seedlings in Ernle Clark Reserve, Christchurch. Given a chance, these will grow to be adults of New Zealand's tallest tree species. Brendan Doody's research suggests that only a tiny minority of New Zealanders would recognise a kahikatea seedling.