This week I attended the Environmental Institute for Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) annual conference in Wellington. This was my first time with this group and I was inspired to attend because of the formation of the new Heritage Special Interest Section. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet environmental practitioners and to gain perspective from their point of view. I like to believe that every person I meet and every article I read has interesting insight into conservation and heritage. While I couldn’t afford to attend both days of the conference, I enjoyed seeing a variety of talks on the second day.
Here is a summary of the presentations I attended from my perspective:
Experienced in politics from a lengthy career in the Ministry for the Environment, Upton has returned to politics as a newly appointed commissioner. One attendee at the meetings mentioned they came just to see him speak because in his previous ministry role he met with the Department of Conservation staff personally to listen to their operations. In his talk, Upton advocated for the use of less jargon in scientific and environmental communications. He used the Lake Taupo nitrogen management scheme as a case study to explain that it took 15 years to finalize and they learned that contrary to the models, the transition of the land from pastoralism to forestry actually increased nitrogen levels through the gorse that flourished. Some take away points:
- Complex problems that are poorly understood can have solutions that cause unintended consequences.
- The stakeholders can be the hardest part of a project, mainly keeping them engaged and in it for the long run.
- There are four responses to environmental problems (which can be applied to heritage problems):
- feeling overwhelmed by complex problems and lost in where to start or head
- learning to live with the problem
- resisting the fact that there is a problem
- denying that there is a problem
- Have consistent and frank measurement and messaging.
- Realize that not all policies will work as promised. (This was mentioned several times throughout the meeting). Criticising is easy. Try to help understand why it failed.
This unusual duo gave an interesting contrast to all of the negative news by highlighting the positive directions that humanity and science is heading by giving statistics. It was refreshing to see an acknowledgement of the positive of having a strong female leader such as Jacinda Ardern, our newly elected Prime Minister. Some takeaways from their photo journey:
- When we get science wrong, it means we have learned something.
- Our brains have trouble balancing that the world is improving with the fact that it is still not good enough.
Representing the NZ Transport Agency, David gave a great overview of the formation of the Waipoua Forest Sanctuary Management Plan. The plan identified the need for training of the maintenance crew related to pruning, affecting surrounding fauna when operating (i.e. orchids). While the actual management plan is not easily visible on the web, it is always great to see how plans come to fruition with multiple agency stakeholders.
My presentation gave an overview of the place of heritage within the environment and explored the relationship of humans and the environment. Each presenter needed to provide a set of recommendations. Mine were:
- Start equally valuing heritage sites and the surrounding landscapes that influenced their formations.
- More resources made available for the preservation of heritage when found in combination with important natural resources.
Colin is unlike any archaeologist I have ever met. A self-described ecological archaeologist, he sees the value of archaeology through the environment rather than the other way around. His presentation on the Pollack Swamp illustrated a survey of the 220 hectare area. Using Lidar to illustrate topography and map the landscape, he showed the locations of human occupations along the waterways. The construction and development of the area intended to inundate the swap with water and used modeling to predict the amount of water needed to add, but….the models were wrong. Colin gave an interesting reframing of looking for valuable ecological ‘hotspots’ as indicated by archaeological sites. Take aways:
- Indigenous populations don’t want to consult, they want to participate through employment or just to reestablish their connection with the land.
- The development world sees heritage as a problem.
Daniela gave a fascinating presentation on her masters work which explored the illegal practice of shark finning in the Galapagos Islands. A native of Ecuador and of the Galapagos, she eloquently highlighted an example of the interaction of people with the environment. A management plan for the Islands was created in 1998 which focused on environmental studies and did not include perspectives from the people who utilise the resource. She went on to highlight that 97% of the islands are protected and 3% are used for human occupation. There are challenges for them in being heard within the larger Ecuadorian politics. Take aways:
- Science and local knowledge is necessary in decision-making.
- ‘Local empowerment’
Representing Massey University, Kate gave a very interesting presentation on seed banking and collaboration. My first thought at the mention of seed banking is of the facility in Svalbard. Kate presented the challenges that Massey is facing when exploring the option of starting a seed bank for NZ native flora. Why not just send the seeds to Svalbard or the UK you may ask? The NZ Treaty of Waitangi prevents any native plant materials from leaving the country. Native species are being lost despite tremendous efforts of the nation to preserve them. Climate change is affecting alpine species. Some species can not be banked using typical methods of desiccation. There are 3,000 possible species that could be banked, they have done a pilot with 300. Issues outside of just collecting the seeds include:
- Building and maintaining a facility to house the collection
- How do plants interact with each other (i.e. do they need each other to survive?)
- How would diseases affect the seeds
Kate gave a case study of an example of Hauraki Gulf and the flora, gannet, and rat species found there. Removing the rats would affect the native plant present. Other interesting points made are:
- Seed collecting should be a minimum part of conservation efforts.
- The iwi and hapu are already collecting native flora for preservation with some seeds being returned from the UK seed bank to replant.
Unfortunately there is a lack of funding to move forward with the project. Overall, it is another good example of the community stepping up in preservation efforts where other agencies can not. Also, I had no idea of the other ethical and theoretical questions posed by seed banking.
While I missed the beginning of this presentation, it was a great overview of mitigation measures in general. Success is usually measured by a) avoidance b) relocation. Success measures should be realistic and stated. It is incredibly important to go back and test the implementation (although not always possible).
The keys to success are:
- Clear purpose and intention
- Timeframes should be realistic and accurate
- Be sure to implement success measures
Ask, can it be simpler? It is important to remember that some mitigation could take decades and/or more than the allotted time for the project. Ian left us with the thought, does it really matter if a strategy was successful if it had larger effects?
I found this presentation to be most applicable to my research interests and really enjoyed the perspective. Ann starts out by describing the 11,000 km of roads in New Zealand with a lot of infrastructure related to history and heritage (i.e. tunnels and bridges). In many cases these historic sites aren’t sufficient for modern transport. Ann demonstrated the efforts by NZTA to address heritage issues including a pub that was moved (Birdcage Tavern). Ann raised good points around tourism and economy including that agencies want to know they can recuperate costs. Another case study presented was the road works along the Kapiti Coast and the documentation of over 200 archaeological features overseen by archaeological authorities and iwi monitors. The NZTA commissioned Landcare Research to evaluate the work completed at an international level on heritage values. Value has a different meaning to economists versus heritage professionals. Most importantly, the NZTA also assessed the Maori approach to significance. To that end, they designed the HEBF tool to look at the economy and heritage values. The final report can be found here.