Our first experiences of the environment and biodiversity usually come from our early explorations as children in our backyard and local community. It’s the beginning of our awareness of the natural world and an important step into our understanding of the world around us. The Dunedin City Council has recently presented Te Ao Turoa – The Natural World as a draft environmental strategy for the City. The proposed strategy lo sets out themes, objectives and priorities for the management of the Dunedin Environment.
I was asked to write a submission on the proposed strategy on behalf of the Otago Peninsula Community Board. Strategy documents like this one are highly aspirational, they aspire to high level objectives and priorities. There’s nothing wrong with this as it’s designed to give some direction in a very complicated issue, but the real test of these kinds of documents lies in how they are going to be implemented and funded. The other part of that test is whether the organisation that develops the strategy can ensure that it becomes part of the broader corporate culture of that organisation at all levels. This is a particularly critical aspect for its success.
My submission on behalf of the Community Board dealt specifically with the effects of the strategy on the Otago Peninsula. Implementation, communication and the ability of the strategy to be assimilated into the contractual, legal and policy landscape were major themes of that submission. The other aspect of the submission was the acknowledgement of community, business and human resources in the management and conservation of the environment needs deeper consideration. This is directly relevant to the Peninsula as our landscape and environment is so highly reliant on people who act as guardians and stewards of this unique place. It’s always difficult to synthesize such a daunting topic as the environment in a few succinct pages of a submission. The scale of the topic and its complexities means that you always feel as though there’s something you’ve missed out. I imagine that the strategy process will be an evolutionary one as submissions come in from a wide range of people around the city with widely different views.
The Banana passion-fruit vine (Passiflora mollissima) has become a problem plant for the Otago Peninsula over recent years and has continued to occupy significant areas of roadside in Portobello and Harington Point Roads. Given its highly invasive nature and need for high light levels passion-fruit has begun to choke the life out of many areas around the Peninsula. Its prolific fruit production has also been shown to be a suitable source of food for possums and birds distributing viable seed from the gut that can germinate. The other issue is if this plant remains widespread on roadside areas it will eventually be problematic to conservation groups and agencies as well as private landowners who manage bush remnants on the Peninsula.
I have raised the issue of passion-fruit at our Community Board meetings and through The Star to highlight the need to look at a multi-agency approach to management of passion-fruit. That includes both the Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council. As a land manager one of the issues for the City Council is understanding the extent of the problem and how to tackle it on the roadside areas. With in mind Moira Parker and myself have completed a map of the roadside areas on the Peninsula using GPS waypoints. The extent of the spread of passion-fruit surprised me with 220 sites identified and mapped. This mapping exercise now gives the City Council some hard data to develop a programme of suitable control, but it won’t be easy. This has to be looked at as a long-term and constant project over the course of 6-7 years and discussions with the Council will be ongoing. In the mean time one of the most simplest things people on the Peninsula can do is eat more passion-fruit! By harvesting the fruit it reduces the opportunity for further seed dispersal. If you are eating the fruit or preparing it just remember to dispose of seed and vine material in your refuse, not your compost!
The map below shows the 220 sites identified predominantly on roadside areas. You can navigate around it within the frame by using your mouse. Click on one of the markers and you’ll see a photograph of the site. You can also view the map in a full screen view by clicking on the box icon on the top right corner.
One of the great things about living on the Otago Peninsula and having children at a local school is you get to do some of the cool things that they do as well. I was one of two parents who took a group of children from Portobello School to Okia Reserve for “World Ranger Day” with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Getting children out of the classroom and providing a genuine ranger experience was a great concept, but having pupils from the three Peninsula schools was pure genius. Like it or not there is a need for conservation groups to be prepared to pass on the mantle of stewardship onto a younger generation, and the earlier we do this the better. Peninsula kids are very fortunate that they grow up in a landscape inhabited by iconic wildlife species. We can only hope that this experience and their own inquiry will develop either empathetic citizens or active conservationists.
What I really enjoyed about the ranger day was the hands on activities that provided a genuine wildlife management experience. From exercises in measuring and identifying birds, to pest control and habitat creation, each activity was designed to show what really needs to be done in wildlife conservation. So much of what actually goes on in the field is unknown to the public, and to be able to provide that experience for our school children was a great experience. I’m sure many of the pupils will share their experience with their parents and family.
After events like this there’s always time to pause and reflect on some of the things that you take away from them. One of the big issues that stands out for me is how much the Peninsula relies on voluntary organisations and citizen conservationists to protect and advocate for our wildlife and landscape. The voluntary hours, fundraising and hard work put into places like Okia is quite staggering, and that is both comforting and concerning at the same time. It also highlights my view that the Peninsula Community Board has an important role to act as advocates and supporters for conservation groups in our district. That means using policy, planning and financial forums to ensure this critical work can continue on the Peninsula. After my experience at Okia it’s not difficult to understand just how important that role is and how rewarding it can be for our children today and in the future.