One of the world's biggest charitable environment groups, US-headquartered The Nature Conservancy, has been showing growing interest in New Zealand. Jamie Morton asked its Asia Pacific regional managing director, Charles Bedford, what its focuses are here and whether our clean, green brand is at risk.

Can you first tell us a little bit about your organisation and what it does?

A good way to think about us is kind of a consultant on behalf of nature.

We work with governments, local people and corporates around the world, and bring science about their natural resources to decision-makers.


We are not an advocacy group in the sense of being critical of governments - we are really more focused on using science to get real results on the ground, in conservation.

So where are some areas around the world where you've made a difference?

In the United States, we own and manage the world's largest network of nature reserves - that's tens of millions of acres of land that is managed as natural areas to support people.

They're both watersheds but are also about education, and kids go out and learn about nature on those places.

In China, on the Yangtze River, which is the world's third biggest river, we've helped the Three Gorges Dam Corporation and the government to manage the water below the dams, so fish don't get wiped out.

In Indonesia, we helped set up the Komodo National Park and put it on firm financial footing.

We've been involved in the creation of national parks and marine protected areas all over the world, in collaboration with local governments.

What are you looking at here?


We are new to New Zealand and we want to make sure we are adding to the great work of NGOs, the government, and particularly the Department of Conservation.

What we understand from the last couple of years of fact-finding and research is there are a couple of areas where we hope we can add value.

One is on the marine front, and in the restoration of shellfish in the Hauraki Gulf.

It's sort of a centre of New Zealand's population base and it's got this incredibly rich history of shellfish which has been completely depleted.

There are good efforts going on there and we hope we can bring some of our expertise from the US and Australia, where we've got hundreds of different projects in place.

Then there's fisheries management and the quota management system: it's a model, but there's obviously always room for improvement.

Some of the lessons learned here, in the improvement of that process, could be applied abroad, especially in Pacific countries.

And then there's freshwater: can we bring private-sector investment in water quality in line with that from Government, business, iwi and non-profit foundations to mitigate nutrient loads and sediment into rivers?

That's another area we'd like to focus on.

We've seen a series of stories from high-profile news outlets around the world questioning whether New Zealand's environmental credentials match that of its tourism branding, especially around freshwater. Is this something your organisation has picked up on?

It's always easy to throw stones when you put yourself forward as a leader.

I think that's fair enough - it helps keep leaders honest and keep them working harder to maintain that leadership advantage.

But I have to say, New Zealand is a leader on the environment and conservation globally.

Even if there's a few cracks in the facade, people are working very hard to fix those.

So, yes, sure, there's anxiety about the brand and the message versus the reality, but when you really look at it, it's a pretty darn well managed system.

And when you get that kind of criticism, Kiwis take it seriously and ask, how are we going to fix it?

That's the classic Kiwi spirit, at least in my limited exposure here.