Green New Zealand? Progress in Landscape development

This blog post was written by postgraduate student Johanna Voinopol-Sassu as part of the course, Research Methods in Ecology (Ecol 608). Johanna revisits a Lincoln University research area that examines the New Zealand rural landscape published in 2000.

A critical review of the paper: A landscape ecological framework for indigenous regeneration in rural New Zealand-Aotearoa, published by Colin Meurk (Landcare Research NZ) and Simon Swaffield (Lincoln University) in “Landscape and Urban Planning”

The title indicates the authors` ambitious goal for a new rural landscape. Indeed they call their aim a vision.  The authors emphasize the discrepancy between pristine, wild areas, which are often located in national parks and are well preserved, and the agricultural areas/landscapes which are non-native and less suitable for indigenous species. These different landscapes are natural or human-made, with little in between. The goal of the proposed changes (transformation) is for human and native species to enjoy the features of both nature and culture in rural parts of New Zealand.

How do we accomplish this task?

These figures from the paper best visualise their concepts:

The “contemporary dysfunctional agribusiness landscape”

(Colin D. Meurk, Simon R. Swaffield, 2000)

The medicine for this sick land:

The proposed “integrated landscape vision”

(Colin D. Meurk, Simon R. Swaffield, 2000)

Certainly, most landscape ecologists and nature conservationist have this…let`s call it  a “dream”… of a cultural country bursting with biodiversity. But why is it so difficult to realise this?

The authors promote the aspiring idea that culture itself could become the main driver for nature conservation with an essential part of this being landscape restoration and landscape ecology. If local people value and identify with an ‘indigenous species dominated nature’ (which means: nature, where most species are native), they will engage with increased efforts to conserve and improve their beloved home land. The question that comes to my mind is whether it is somehow naive to believe that people will change their preferences about their surrounding landscape? I believe that many do not care or do not give priority to what they see out of their front door, because their mind is mainly occupied by other issues: work, family, etc. The authors admit that people might not accept changes to their well-known “European” like countryside. Furthermore, we cannot expect people, especially farmers under commercial pressure, to act without incentives. There must be governmental support and frameworks in place, both in finance and knowledge. The government has a large responsibility to design a healthy environment. Let`s glance at one example. The Ministry for Primary Industries (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Fisheries combined April 2012) is a main driver in developing rural areas. One of their programs is the: “Sustainable Land Management Hill Country Erosion Programme”. The aim of the project is to improve protection of highly erodible land.

An example of a hill affected by erosion

 (picture taken nearby Christchurch by Johanna V., 2012). 

There are many hills like this in Canterbury.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ website does not explicitly mention native tree species as part of the solution; instead they use vague language like “building technical capacities”. Where is the link between sustainable agriculture and nature conservation? Is there any?

It is not easy to evaluate whether New Zealand’s rural native biodiversity increased or decreased the last decade. For example, the big dairying boom happened, with the stripping of woodlots and shelterbelts to make way for centre point irrigators. If anything, much of New Zealand’s rural landscapes are even more simplified and less native than when this article was written. On the other hand, there are some promising programmes underway to restore native vegetation along water ways.

It is even more difficult to guess in which direction New Zealand cultural landscape will develop. But as the article admits, it might take centuries until (semi-) native biodiversity dominates New Zealand’s rural areas. 

Colin D. Meurk, Simon R. Swaffield, 2000. A landscape ecological framework for indigenous regeneration in rural New Zealand-Aotearoa. Landscape and Urban Planning, 50, pp. 129-144

The Ministry for Primary Industries homepage


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