Biodiversity is the diversity of living things. It includes all plants, mammals, birds, fish, moss, insects, microbes and bacteria. The term also incorporates the diversity between individuals, such as the differences in our genes, and the diversity of ecosystems (the community of living things and their physical environment).
Biodiversity includes indigenous species, those that are naturally found a place, and exotic species, those that have been brought to a place by humans.
The Environment Southland Biodiversity programme focuses on maintaining indigenous biodiversity.
Why is biodiversity important?
As humans we rely on other species and ecosystems to survive. Plants provide us with oxygen, food, building materials and medicines, whilst animals provide food and clothing. The species we rely on in turn rely on other species, so everything is connected in an interlinked web.
The health of the system and the environment depends on keeping this web strong and linked. Maintaining high levels of biodiversity helps keep this web intact and provides healthy ecosystems. Ecosystems in turn provide clean water, flood protection, nutrient cycling and climate control. So biodiversity creates a healthy environment for us to live, work and play. Find out more about Southland's Ecosystems here.
Biodiversity is also pretty special in its own right. From the smallest microbe to the largest tree, the species around us are remarkable and have fascinating lives.
New Zealand's location, surrounded by vast ocean, kept our indigenous biodiversity isolated from the rest of the world. This led to the evolution of unique and often weird species and ecosystems that are found nowhere else on earth.
What does a tui have in common with a puma?
Many of New Zealand's unique species are particularly vulnerable to harm by exotic species and the invention of ocean going boats, which broke the islands isolation, brought thousands of exotic species to our shores. The arrival of humans also precipitated the clearing of forests and wetlands for farms, towns and roads. So, although, New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans, it has one of the worst records of native biodiversity loss and species extinctions.
More than 800 indigenous species are classified as threatened due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change and exotic pests.
The high number of endemic species, (species that are only found here), and the high risks and threats to these species has resulted in New Zealand's classification as one of the world's Biodiversity Hotspots. Only 2.3% of the earth surface has this status and it puts us in company with areas such as the Brazilian rainforest and Madagascar.
Regrettably this isn't a title we should be proud of, because although it recognises the diversity and uniqueness of the New Zealand environment, it also means we are at risk of losing it. The tui's and weta here in New Zealand, may not sound as exotic or as exciting as pumas in Brazil or lemurs in Madagascar but they are just as important, and just as threatened.
From wetlands to forests, lakes and alpine meadows, there are over 60 different native ecosystems in Southland. Each ecosystem is a small part of a complex jigsaw and is an integral part of the Southland environment.
What we are doing
In Southland, we have areas with particularly high biodiversity values like Fiordland, Lake Te Anau, Waituna lagoon and Stewart Island. Smaller, remnant patches of bush and wetlands, rivers and lakes throughout Southland provide havens for native species and native biodiversity can also be found in surprising areas like the bottom of your garden, in the woolshed or school yard.
Overall, about 32% of the work Environment Southland undertakes contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity across the region. We:
- provide advice, supporting and funding for biodiversity projects
- monitor the state of Southland's indigenous biodiversity
- carry out biosecurity programmes to manage the exotic species that are damaging native biodiversity including possums and wilding conifers. We also have a dedicated marine biosecurity officer, to prevent damage to the marine environments.
- work on the ground with teachers, schools, landowners, community groups.
- have technical staff out to carry out monitoring and advising on species and habitat.
Addressing New Zealand's Biodiversity Challenge
Business as usual in biodiversity will not be good enough if NZ is to maintain its unique indigenous flora and fauna. This thinkpiece suggests five shifts' that regional councils believe will make the greatest difference. Underlying them is the urgent need for active management - more predator control and the like - and recognition that only a co-ordinated and tenure-neutral approach will succeed against threats to biodiversity.
The focus is regional councils because they're already in this space and have a good experience and understanding of active management, particularly in partnership with private landowners. The document was prepared by Gerard Willis of Enfocus on behalf of the Regional Council Chief Executives Bio Sub-Group, and published in July 2017.
The short video below summarises the 'Biodiversity challenge thinkpiece' and illustrates the five shifts' that will make the greatest difference to halting biodiversity decline in New Zealand.
Community Groups & Landowners
We're working with schools, groups and individuals who want to look after indigenous biodiversity through animal pest control, weed control or native and riparian plantings. Contact us to find out how you or your group can get involved.
High Value Areas
The High Value Area (HVA) programme utilises ecological surveys undertaken by local ecologists, and provides valuable information to landowners that can assist with overall land management. If you're interested in the biodiversity within an area of native bush, wetland, sand dune, or block of scrub on your land, but don't know much about it, the HVA programme is a great way to understand more about it and the ways in which this can be managed for the future.
What you can do
There are many ways you can help to look after New Zealand's biodiversity:
- You can begin at home, in your own backyard or the paddock.
- ES staff can provide advice and support for your project
- The Southland Community Nursery is a great starting point if you want to grow locally sourced native plants best suited for Southland conditions.
- Get involved by becoming a Conservation Volunteer, or with a local community group through the Southland Ecological Restoration Network (SERN).
- Take precautions when you travel to keep New Zealand free of unwanted pests and diseases.
- Many organisations provide information and funding to help you.
- If you have native forest, scrub, wetland or grassland on your property, you could have a free High Value Area survey done to learn more about it, and help you with funding to protect and enhance it.