The world is losing species and ecosystems at a rate never seen before. This was the sobering news in the recently released global assessment of biodiversity.
In New Zealand, we know that 4000 species are threatened or at risk of extinction, not to mention the numerous bird, fish and invertebrate species we've lost forever.
Is it too late to do anything? It can be hard to see a way through, especially with increasing pressure from urban and agricultural development, pollution destroying habitats, and a resistance in some quarters to acknowledge scientific evidence of the human impact on biodiversity.
In the face of the crisis there is increasing enthusiasm and effort to protect habitats, restore ecosystems, clean up rivers, streams and our coasts and, reverse the decline in native species.
The spread of the Predator Free 2050 movement to rid New Zealand or possums, rats and stoats is seeing predator-free community groups out trapping invasive predators on the weekends and celebrating success as native birds, insects and lizards return to backyards.
The reach and inclusiveness of big restoration programmes is impressive. Ground-breaking initiatives that bring together community groups, iwi, philanthropists, businesses, councils and central government include Taranaki Mounga, Project Janszoon in Abel Tasman National Park, and Poutiri Ao ō Tāne in Hawke's Bay, to name a few.
The Department of Conservation's (DOC) Tiakina Ngā Manu programme will help to bring back our native birds with more than $38 million being spent this year to control rats and stoats over a million hectares – that's 12 per cent of the conservation estate.
We know what works to help restore the dawn chorus. Where we do predator control, native species benefit.
In South Westland's Landsborough Valley the numbers of mohua/yellowhead, tuī, bellbird/korimako, brown creeper/pīpipi, rifleman/tītitipounamu, grey warbler/riroriro and kākāriki/yellow-crowned parakeet have all steadily increased over the past 21 years because of six pest control operations. This is particularly good news for mohua, whose numbers have risen 30-fold in the area.
Pest control also helps to protect indigenous podocarp species such as rimu, tōtara, and rātā as well as the broadleaf species such as kamahi and puketea from the ravages of possums and rats.
The release of this latest global biodiversity report has highlighted the importance of increased investment in conservation. The Government recognises the seriousness of New Zealand's biodiversity crisis. Budget 2018 delivered one of the biggest-ever funding increases for conservation – an additional $181.62 million over four years. This funding will help DOC achieve real gains for conservation. Of this, $76 million is dedicated to reversing New Zealand's crisis.
All the work being done by communities, iwi, and local and central government is fantastic. We're seeing a real groundswell of activity. People are energised.
The Environment Aotearoa 2019 report, released last month, shows what we're up against.
At the intergovernmental meeting where the global biodiversity report was presented, every country agreed that nature is declining, and that this is affecting human survival. Now's the time to act. Please consider how you can help nature in your neighbourhood –by encouraging children to play in nature, supporting a stream care group, planting native shrubs in a garden, helping control weeds such as wilding conifers or joining a pest control group.
We all need to get behind the push to save New Zealand's special native plants and wildlife, and the places they live. By working together we can make a difference and give nature a helping hand.
* Eugenie Sage is the Minister of Conservation