Executive summary

Biodiversity provides ecological benefits that allow for the natural sustainability of this planet. However, biodiversity is vulnerable to human-caused threats such as habitat loss, invasive species, and overall human impact. Protecting species diversity from these threats is a necessary part of wildlife conservation. Island species are particularly at risk, due to their isolated evolution and confinement to small habitats. Ecological corridors are among many tools implemented worldwide to combat biodiversity loss. They have designated linkages of land meant to facilitate the movement of populations between green spaces, and therefore mitigate habitat fragmentation and increase ecological diversity over large areas.
New Zealand is a nation that has employed ecological corridors among other tools such as reforestation, pest control, and land preservation, to combat the decline of avian biodiversity over the last century. However, the implementation of corridors has not always been straightforward, since balancing economic needs and conservation is often a difficult process. The organization Forest & Bird Upper Hutt has proposed an ecological corridor between green belt reserves surrounding the region of Upper Hutt, New Zealand to aid the movement of the region’s native birds. However, a potential land-swap has been negotiated between Upper Hutt City Council and the development firm Guildford Timber Company (GTC). This proposal is outlined in a document called the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU); this document is not legally binding and simply indicates intent. If acted upon, the agreement would transfer land important to the corridor’s implementation to GTC for potential urban development. The goal of our project was to investigate the potential and actual value the ecological corridor could provide to the region’s native birds, determine its desirability by Upper Hutt residents, and learn about the attitudes of various stakeholders towards its implementation. This information is intended to help Forest & Bird determine the feasibility of the corridor, and subsequently, help UHCC make an informed land-use decision that will encourage conservation efforts specific to our project and beyond.

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The successful completion of this project required us to divide our main goal into four objectives: (1) determine how native birds in the green belt land could benefit from the presence of an ecological corridor, (2) evaluate the attitudes of key stakeholders towards the ecological corridor concept, (3) assess the public’s perceptions of their relationship to their environment, and (4) create awareness materials for the public and Forest & Bird. These objectives were completed using three methods: interviews, surveys, and field studies at the site of interest. To fulfill our first objective, we conducted interviews with various avian and eco-corridor experts in the region, including individuals at the Te Papa Museum, the team at Wildlife Management International, and facilitators of a corridor across Auckland, New Zealand. We asked about bird species present in our region of interest, bird behavior, and existing conservation efforts to increase the presence of native birds in semi-urban areas. Additionally, we conducted site assessments of the Silverstream Spur and all areas involved in the land-swap proposal. The second objective was completed through a series of interviews with stakeholders in the land, including members of the city council, the company interested in developing on the Silverstream Spur, and our sponsor Forest & Bird. The third objective was mainly fulfilled through an innovative Facebook
paid-advertising campaign. We targeted Hutt Valley residents with a survey meant to assess their attitudes towards conservation, the development proposal, and the region’s native birds. The results of these three objectives culminated in deliverables for our sponsors. We were asked to create awareness materials via a pamphlet and research-style poster, to help educate Forest & Bird members and the public about the corridor effort.

Figure 1: Objectives and methods

Results and Analysis

Objective 1: By conducting site assessments and speaking with ecology and biodiversity experts, we were able to further understand the impact an ecological corridor could have on the native birds in the Hutt Valley. We determined that corridor implementation and maintenance in New Zealand requires extensive pest control to be successful. Additionally, we learned of specific species that could depend on a corridor for movement, including the whitehead and the rifleman. We also found that species such as the tui and kererū may not depend on continuous forest cover but would benefit overall from a larger habitat area. The site assessments revealed that the Silverstream Spur does have relevance as a key element of connectivity; without the Spur, keeping the corridor continuous would be extremely difficult. However, we could not assess the extent of the impact on the movement that development on the Spur would have. We concluded that while the corridor, in theory, would aid in the dispersal of native bird populations, this claim would have to be supplemented by more research to truly prove a corridor’s actual value.
Objective 2: In our semi-structured interviews, we spoke with a representative of the GTC, members of Forest & Bird Upper Hutt, and several local authorities. Each interview helped build a comprehensive profile of the points of view that surround the central issue of our project. In our conversation with Ralph Goodwin, the representative of GTC, we learned that his long-term ownership of land in the Hutt Valley and forestry background has formed the basis for his strong environmental conscience. He demonstrated his commitment to revegetation efforts on the land he hoped to designate as a public reserve in exchange for the Spur. He shared Forest and Bird’s vision for an ecological corridor but admitted that the trade was only economically viable if some form of development occurred on the Spur. He explained his vision for an access road and small hamlets of housing that could still preserve the native bush and scenic landscape.

We next interviewed members of Forest & Bird Upper Hutt to gain their perspective on the corridor and land-swap proposal. Many members were concerned about losing native bush, as from experience they had learned regenerating native forests was an arduous and long process. They also maintained that the Silverstream Spur was crucial to the passageway of native birds, drawing on their past efforts of replanting and removal of invasive species to show their impact on avian populations. We learned members were not completely unified in their beliefs for the Spur’s future land-use. Our sponsor, Pat van Berkel advocated for complete protection of the Spur, whereas Graham Bellamy, the current chairperson of the Upper Hutt branch, accepted the idea of minimal development, such as an access road. Other members were not previously aware of the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the land-swap and voiced their desire for more transparency in its initial creation. We concluded the organization does not have a consensus on the requirements for the ecological corridor to be viable.
Our third set of interviews was with the mayor, chief executive, and the policy planning manager of the Upper Hutt City Council (UHCC). We confirmed the council places high importance on conservation, which is supported by Upper Hutt legislation. The council members we interviewed referenced many policies that require the council to provide for the wellbeing of communities with sustainable, environmentally-conscious actions. We also determined the UHCC does support the land-swap but has not come to any concrete determination of its details. Since there is no precedent to base this proposal on, we became aware that there was no defined next step or timeline upon which to proceed.
However, the council members believed that through the rigorous process warranted by legislation, the land-swap agreement would eventually consider and minimize negative environmental impact. When asked about taking into consideration the public’s feedback, the council members responded that they would be receptive to the public’s feedback during the community engagement phases of the proposal. Additionally, we concluded the council could benefit from a greater understanding of ecological corridors and why they should be a priority for consideration.
Finally, we interviewed people of Māori descent to understand how cultural considerations can be addressed when making land-use decisions. Our interviewees emphasized the sense of guardianship, rather than ownership, one should have with the land. They also explained how understanding one’s history and whakapapa (genealogy) was a primary step in making land-use decisions. We learned that Māori is considered in matters brought up in New Zealand’s environmental court.
Objective 3: Our survey was primarily distributed on Facebook using a series of advertisements. The survey targeted adults within a ten-mile radius of Upper Hutt, with various interests (such as environmentalism, wildlife, video games, and rugby) to obtain the most comprehensive results possible. We spent $290 USD/$410 NZD and collected 553 responses at an average cost of $0.35 USD/$0.51 NZD per response. Most respondents valued conservation greatly but did not rank themselves as highly concerning their knowledge of conservation issues faced by native birds in New Zealand. Respondents were allowed to mention other conservation threats they were aware of, which included habitat loss, pollution, pests, and various forms of pest control. One of the more prevalent themes was 1080 poison; the majority of the mentions of 1080 were highly negative. However, governmental bodies like the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) advocate for the use of 1080, arguing that it is the only effective tool for large-scale pest removal at the moment.

We found most survey respondents (79%) were not aware of Forest & Bird Upper Hutt’s desire to conserve the Silverstream Spur and even more were unaware (84%) of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UHCC and GTC concerning the land-swap.
Of the respondents who were aware of the MOU, 44% listed various concerns including development, lack of transparency between UHCC and the GTC, and flood risk to the surrounding communities. When assessing how the respondents felt about their local native birds, we found that the tui, kererū, and fantail all had a very positive impact on individuals’ daily life. Respondents shared many stories about their interactions and relationships with these birds.
Objective 4 (Awareness Materials): The purpose of the pamphlet was to provide a brief explanation about ecological corridors, the value of bird corridors, and how Silverstream Spur could function as a corridor to benefit Upper Hutt’s native birds. This the pamphlet was designed for the general public as well as Forest & Bird members. The research poster was a display of our project, including the background, objectives, results, and recommendations intended for Forest & Bird members or others familiar with the Silverstream Spur and conservation efforts in Upper Hutt. These materials were presented at Forest & Bird’s annual meeting following our presentation.

Figure 2: Pamphlet layout

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Our recommendations for Forest & Bird are as follows:
Public Outreach
1. Increased public education efforts about the proposed corridor project and current methods of conserving native vegetation and wildlife.
The Ecological Corridor
1. Consult biodiversity/ecology experts who can provide substantive evidence for the corridor’s potential effectiveness.
2. Begin a public campaign towards securing the corridor.
The Land-Swap
1. Maintain the amicable relationship that currently exists between their branch and GTC representative Ralph Goodwin.
2. Propose a reassessment of the land-swap to the UHCC, including the incorporation of an ecological corridor or land set aside for conservation.

The purpose of this project was to identify how the ecological corridor concept would impact the region’s birds and to understand the attitudes of key stakeholders and the public towards the potential land-swap. We found that while conservation of the Silverstream Spur could be helpful, the evidence was not conclusive that birds would benefit from this corridor. Fortunately, all stakeholders seemed receptive to the corridor, despite the development that may occur on the Spur. Our sponsors also wished to know how the general public viewed these topics. Our findings indicate that the public has favorable views towards conservation and that many people are aware of and concerned by threats to native bird species. This information can be used by Forest & Bird to promote the potential ecological corridor. The consensus from the stakeholders is that this land-swap and potential development is a slow-moving process. We recommend that the involved parties continue their cooperative efforts and maintain open lines of communication. A renegotiation of the land-swap is possible and may result in a more agreeable compromise among the stakeholders. We believe that the parties can come to an agreement that is both ecologically favorable and commercially viable.

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