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Reconnecting landscape important for biodiversity to survive

The Hawke’s Bay region requires greater connectivity if biodiversity is to survive and persist in the long run.

Speaking to a full lecture theatre at EIT this week, visiting Professor Bruce Clarkson, said currently “too many patches are too small” and the any biodiversity initiative needed to take a total system approach.

The public lecture, ‘Biodiversity in Hawke's Bay - What's our future?’ was organised by the Hawke's Bay branch of the Royal Society of NZ, in conjunction with Biodiversity Hawke's Bay and The University of Waikato.

“When we think about this problem we’ve got to be thinking about the total system and how we improve connectivity of habitat and reconnect the landscape so that it functions to protect our biodiversity,” Prof. Clarkson said.

The Professor of Restoration Ecology at the University of Waikato recognised initiatives like the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Covenants, which allow private landowners to set aside land for protecting on perpetuity, as being “immeasurably important”.

Currently, Hawke’s Bay has about 11,000 hectares of QEII Covenants – roughly one-third of the size of New Zealand’s smallest national park, Egmont National Park.

The median size of these covenants is 10 hectares, and the biggest covenant in Hawke’s Bay is something in the order of 400 hectares.

“Even though they are small, and even though they are fragmented, they have in them, biodiversity which is not found in the big upland areas that are protected by the Department of Conservation (DoC),” Prof. Clarkson said.

However, Prof. Clarkson said: “Just having isolated fragments and patches on a landscape is not enough for biodiversity to persist”.

“Spatial configuration and connectivity of patches is important.

“The point in Hawke’s Bay is that too many patches are too small and so we have to do something about beefing them up, expanding them where possible and buffering the system.”

Like the Hamilton ecological district, where Prof. Clarkson lives, the Hawke’s Bay lowlands have less than two per cent of the original native vegetation remaining on the landscape.

The upland areas in the region still have a “good extent” of indigenous habitat remaining. But this decreases coastwards because of the impacts of agriculture and urban development.

Prof. Clarkson has been advocating for many years now, that to solve the issue in urban, peri-urban and parts of rural zones where indigenous vegetation has less than 10 per cent cover, “we must consider habitat reconstruction”.

Reconstruction is an ecological process more ambitious than revegetation.

“We must start doing something about expanding the habitat. If we do not increase the area of habitat what happens over time is species are progressively lost from the system.”

He believes riparian planting, planting the areas beside waterways, is “critically important” because it is the beginning of a process that will weave more indigenous nature back into the landscape and eventually build ecological corridors from the mountains to the sea.  

Not only does it enhance water quality, but other ecosystem services too, including biodiversity.

He expressed optimism for the future with the current favourable policy framework and collective impact initiatives like Biodiversity Hawkes Bay.

1 February 2021

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