Image credit: C. Mary Brake & Catriona MacLeod

By Catriona J. MacLeod, Angela J. Brandt, Kevin Collins, and Lynn V. Dicks

Read the article here.

Despite decades of expert conservation advice, meeting the global challenge of protecting and enhancing the natural richness and value (the ‘biodiversity’) of the world we live in is proving hard to achieve. It is now clear that getting better conservation impacts on the ground is going to take the support and engagement of all (‘collective action’).

But how do we build that support and engagement? Experts have identified that a good starting point is to be open and inclusive when setting biodiversity goals and making conservation decisions, and have come up with principles to help make that happen. Putting those principles into practice in the real world, though, is not proving so easy.

In New Zealand, as in other countries, a critical conservation issue is how to manage nature in farmland. We tried to get as diverse a range of interests involved (including not just farmers and growers but also conservation practitioners, policymakers, advisors and advocates) in a process to decide what matters most and what management actions give the best benefit. We used this as a case study to identify unforeseen issues that arise when trying to set priorities that best represent all.

By encouraging a broad church, our process catalysed a wider-ranging conversation than would have otherwise happened, with multiple benefits. Finding some common ground, and agreeing on some short-term priorities, successfully acted as a springboard for developing a biodiversity assessment tool for New Zealand’s farms. We also all learnt something new, developing a shared and richer understanding of the opportunities and challenges faced by conservation and sustainable land management.

However, we also faced the issues of spanning the gap between experts and scientists on one side and those managing the land on the other, how social ‘power hierarchies’ can hinder attempts to be open, inclusive, fair and balanced, and how we need to do a better job of valuing and supporting the wide range of connections that people have to the land.

But overcoming these will all be worthwhile – by making it easy for people to engage, and thinking carefully about how to engage them, conservation decisions can be enriched by the diverse insights that different walks of life can offer.