Cities vital to good conservation in NZ

Why should cities care about bats, or bugs, or bush?

 It's simple. Without cities actively working to protect and enhance natural treasures and biodiversity in NZ, our extinction rates will remain high and the permanent loss of natural resources will occur.

I was asked to speak at the launch of conservation week. I'm glad. It gave me a chance to reflect on a topic dear to my heart "Cities and Biodiversity"

It bothered me to realise I had fallen into the trap of busy city life;  in which talks of growth, planning, houses, safety, roads and rates had pushed environmental matters to the periphery at a governance level. It is as if everything we talk about at council sits in different buckets and is given wildly differing priority. 

I've been accused of being a "greenie" many times in my political journey by those with different political views or agendas. What does that even mean? If it means I factor in important environmental considerations when considering the best future for the city and its people, then they are right. If it is about wanting sustainable development they are also right.

The facts are:

In the last two decades bioversity (the full diversity of plants, animals and the places they live) has declined globally and right here in NZ.

In the past two decades cities have grown like topsy. Roads and houses are built by the day to provide for people.  Soil has been tar sealed, waterways drained, water polluted, trees chopped, thousands of species have been made extinct or are heading that way.

Cities contribute to the decline of the environment within, and outside of, them reducing natural space within city boundaries and using natural resources from outside ( think milk from farms, fish from the sea, paper from the forests).

We rely on a healthy environment for water, for energy, for food and medicine, for protection from climate variation, for health and well-being.

We need cities. We need homes. We need to provide for people. We also need our environment. These things are not separate but are entwined threads that make the fabric of life in cities strong.

FACT: In 2002  at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, world leaders endorsed the target of achieving a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

FACT: this did not happen especially in NZ.

Keep reading to hear what can be done to change this.

Hamilton, we need to help.

In 2007 as part of my Kellogg Rural Leader Scholarship I wanted to know how cities could play a greater part in conservation, protection and enhancement of our special natural treasures. I looked for a project to champion and was fortunate to be part of the team that got the Hamilton Halo Project cracking. I learned a lot and that project is so successful it has long since stood on it's own feet and we all enjoy the abundance of characterful Tui in our city today.

The were four key elements that lead to the success:

1. Sound science ( All credit to John Innes and Bruce Clarkson)

2. Sound planning process ( All credit to WRC staff)

3. Political champion

4, Community buy-in and business partners.

In the early days I worked to get fellow councillors to understand, appreciate and support the concepts. This required information sharing, field trips and expert informed conversations. We bought science to the Council table. I championed the cause to get enough votes around the table to do the first part of the project done, then the second and third parts. Then finally 4 years the success was so evident I no longer had to work to protect the funding. My job was mostly done. The project is now in the careful hands of other caretakers and you the public, who love the Tui, are the reason the project will be protected well into the future.

What does this mean for Hamilton? Cities to do have to grow. Roads and houses are needed. More water, food and energy will be needed.

I get that. To me it's not about curbing growth nor about man versus nature. It is about working smarter. It is about doing things in a connected way. It is about factoring in environment at the early stages of development. It is about factoring in biodiversity needs into new community areas. It is about preserving and protecting water, being energy wise and reducing wastes ( single-use plastics be gone!)

The staff at Council do a fabulous job. We will be leading the way in NZ for waste management (Cnr Bunting did a great job) We are planting trees, protecting some of our gullies and streams, managing some lovely green spaces. We are leaders in water management. I thank them for their passion.

However, there are pressures; fast city growth, funding restraints and low levels of governance engagement. I have seen eyes roll when I ask about bat protection in new development areas, when I mention the cuts under previous council to gully restoration or Cnr Henry asks about different methods of weed management.

But this is not a glum blog, It is a cautionary one. Great stuff is  or happening. Hamilton has a fantastic volunteer base. Hats off the Lake Waiwhakareke, Fairfield Project and Riverlea Restoration! DOC do all they can but they alone can't fix it.

I am so glad that Cnr Casson  (credit where it is due) got the word "environment" added the committee I chair "Community, Services and Environment Committee". I'm even more glad that at the next meeting we have an item on the Biodiversity Strategy.

Let the conservation conversation create city change that is good for us all.

Meanwhile it pays to remember that over a decade ago Ahmed Djohlaf of the UN Nations Convention on Biological Diversity said " The cities will determine the fate of the remaining biodiversity of our planet. The battle for life will be won or lost there."


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