Conservation Focus 3: Biodiversity

Rob Cross advisingLocal Biodiversity Advisor, Rob Cross, is the subject to this week’s feature on Kapiti conservation. Rob works for the Kapiti Coast District Council and is a key figure in promoting environmental awareness and action in the area. (The photo shows him coordinating a planting day near the Library in July.)

This is the first in a series of Q & A features with prominent conservation figures in Kapiti. KIN is grateful to Rob for taking the time to answer our questions.

Interview with Rob Cross

Photos by Ian Linning

Kapiti Independent News (KIN): How do you define biodiversity?

otaihanga-domainRob Cross (RC): ‘Biodiversity’ usually means the range of organisms living in a place, the range of ecosystems or communities in which the organisms are living and the genetic make-up and variation of species present.

When government agencies use the term they are usually referring to indigenous biodiversity, meaning native New Zealand organisms not introduced by people.

This is because indigenous biodiversity is protected by legislation such as the Resource Management Act, in keeping with New Zealand’s obligations as a signatory to the International Convention on Biological Diversity, aimed at halting the world-wide decline in indigenous biodiversity.

KIN: What were your expectations of the position when you became Biodiversity Advisor?

RC: My expectations were informed by knowing the previous holders of the position, therefore they were realistic. I expected the role to be challenging, wide-ranging and rewarding.

KIN: Has it been any different?

RC: Thankfully, no.

KIN: What aspects of your work do you most enjoy?

RC: The variety is great. On any given day I could be

Council worker with plants~ planning a restoration project on public or private land from the sand dunes to the foothills

~ coordinating pest animal and weed control on Council reserves

~ reviewing a resource consent application

~ providing advice to a community restoration group

~ helping school children plant trees

~ contributing to planning and policy development, advising a farmer on fencing off a stream

~ collaborating with Greater Wellington and Department of Conservation biodiversity staff.

There are always new challenges; it’s impossible to get bored.

KIN: How would you sum up the state of conservation involvement and awareness in the Kapiti District?

RC: The level of involvement is pretty healthy, though it would be good to see more young people involved. And by ‘young’ I mean under 60. Awareness is growing because of media coverage of environmental issues and kids learning about them at school, which is great.

KIN: Some people feel the KCDC’s attitude to vegetation is “natives good, exotics bad”. Is this fair?

RC: It’s neither fair nor true. Council continues to plant and maintain exotic plants in its parks and reserves, on road berms and in display beds.

That tradition doesn’t attract publicity, whereas disputes over natives have made headlines in recent years. Some of that coverage has been shallow and inaccurate, creating false impressions.

Wharemauku Stream south side plantsKIN: New Zealand’s environment has undergone huge modifications as a result of the actions of first, Pacific Island settlers and later, European settlers. Large areas were burnt or cleared, and vast tracts have been planted in exotic pines. Obviously we can’t restore the country’s original ecosystem, however what positive things can we do?

RC: Everyone can contribute to protecting and restoring what remains of our unique flora, fauna and ecosystems. The amazing recovery of plant and animal populations in island sanctuaries and ‘mainland islands’, has shown that native ecosystems are resilient.

Give them a break by controlling pest animals and plants and they come roaring back, faster than anyone expected. For the last decade throughout Kāpiti and New Zealand community groups have formed to restore native ecosystems.

Whareroa GuardiansJoining a local group is positive. So is visiting local sanctuaries such as Kāpiti Island or Nga Manu, or supporting a national conservation organisation like Forest and Bird. If groups aren’t your thing you can be positive at your place by controlling pest animals and plants, planting natives that benefit birds, reptiles and insects, and by not owning a cat.

Remember too that the social attitudes and economic pressures that resulted in so much damage are still present. Being aware of them, resisting them and supporting those who speak up for conservation are positive things vital to ensuring that the gains of recent years aren’t lost.