UC forestry professor David Norton says farmers are best placed to look after conservation on private land because of the significant amount of land area involved (two-thirds of New Zealand) and the fact that the land tenure is largely freehold.
“We need to find a new approach and this matches with what the Department of Conservation Director General has been saying,’’ Professor Norton says.
“If native biodiversity is to be sustained on agricultural land, a new approach is required because the present one is not working in many instances.
“Without a new approach, the biodiversity train wreck that lies ahead could exceed even our worst fears. We need trust and respect between farmers, conservation interests, scientists and officials as the basis for a strong partnership.
“We need a new kind of rural advisor trained in ecological and agricultural science whose role would be to provide biodiversity information, management and planning advice to farmers, and to help them apply for funding.
“We need to encourage conservation advocates, government agencies, ecologists and farmers to work together in developing novel answers and solutions to farmland biodiversity problems.
“Farmers are in the best position to manage significant native biodiversity assets on their land. Farmers are not afraid to be innovative. Society will applaud new initiatives that achieve their intended objectives, including novel solutions that might raise eyebrows in traditional farming and conservation circles.
“Critics on both sides of the fence will need to permit new approaches to be trialled and evaluated for a reasonable period of time, years rather than months,’’ Professor Norton says.
Conservation interests needed to recognise that most farmers want to do the right thing and protect native biodiversity, subject to time, money, feasibility and the likelihood of success.
“Rural ecologists would help farmers sustain the most significant natural assets on their farms, but would also work with farmers in better understanding their matrix management and its implications for biodiversity.
“These ecologists would be best located in existing local management structures such as district councils and thus be close to the farmers they are working with.’’
Professor Norton has just released a book on the issue, Nature and farming: Sustaining native biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, co-authored with Professor Nick Reid of the University of New England, New South Wales.
Most farmers want to be responsible for conservation on their own land.
The reason there is native bush and other flora and fauna worth conserving is because many have been doing so for generations.