Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop run by Sanctuaries of New Zealand. This is an annual national event hosted at a different location each year. This year it was at Hamilton Gardens. I’ve been to plenty of conferences in my working life but never has a conference left me so invigorated. I listened with interest to each and every presenter, never losing concentration or dozing off, except maybe in that difficult time straight after lunch.
While there, I learnt what a biodiversity sanctuary is – it’s a site that experimentally restores New Zealand ecosystems to indigenous dominance and full species complement. There are at least 82 such projects on or near the New Zealand mainland. Many of these are in our region, though they are spread throughout the country. Some, like Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary, are fenced. Others are not, so they face a continued assault by predators such as rats, stoats and possums.
The programme covered science talks, a soap box session, a field trip and a workshop on “Collaboration for conservation”. The presenters were knowledgeable, spoke well and, above all, were passionate about their topic. It was this passion that was infectious. The topics were varied and interesting. Who would have thought you could train dogs to identify the presence of invasive fish species? The data presented about the success of sanctuaries was heartening. It was great to know all the hard work is producing results.
However, disappointing to realise that outside the sanctuaries, our indigenous species are still in decline. Maybe the “landscape scale” predator control projects will make an impact.
During breaks, there was a great opportunity to meet people working in other sanctuaries. Some were paid workers, many were volunteers. However, they all had the passion for, and belief in, their project. They were all working for the common goal of returning New Zealand to a land of biodiversity. Nobody expected praise for what they were doing, although many deserved it. Everyone was hungry for the knowledge of others around them, open to considering new ideas.
I’d expected a room full of stereotypical greenies, but was surprised. There were scientists, administrators, managers, plain old garden-variety New Zealanders and, oh yeah, some stereotypical greenies. The questions from the floor were generally well thought out and intelligent. They probed the topics and were well responded to. Awkward topics were openly and rationally addressed.
I’ve left many a conference with my head full of good ideas, but never left one with the knowledge that there are so many others out there just getting on with doing the good work. I’m looking forward to next year’s event.
Roger Grove, TOSSI