New Zealand farmers identified a wide range of advantages connected with on-farm biodiversity in a recent scientific survey.
The study, which surveyed 500 sheep and beef farmers from around Aotearoa, received nearly 700 responses that described advantages to managing and protecting biodiversity on their land.
While most participants were male Pākehā/NZ European over the age of 45, responses to the questions showed a huge variety of viewpoints when it came to native biodiversity on farms.
"This study highlighted that many farmers associate a range of values and benefits with biodiversity on-farm, spanning social, environmental and economic themes," lead author Dr Fleur Maseyk from The Catalyst Group said
Social advantages were the most commonly recognised; with 47 per cent of the responses describing benefits, such as advantages to the farmer, their family and staff. There were also benefits beyond the farm gate, such as intergenerational equity and meeting the responsibility of land management.
One farmer said it was about "protecting things for the future, we have a moral obligation. New Zealand's natural resource - it's who we are and what we are."
Environmental benefits were also commonly cited (34 per cent), such as erosion control and improved water quality.
Only eight percent of respondents thought there were no benefits of having native biodiversity on farms.
"As well as the values and benefits of biodiversity on-farm, this study also highlighted the sticking points that are acting as barriers to enhancing biodiversity in farming landscapes," said Maseyk.
When asked about the disadvantages of managing and protecting native biodiversity, responses were fewer (530) and grouped into economic (44 per cent), practical (26 per cent) and social (25 per cent) themes.
Economic concerns were the most common, namely the cost of protecting biodiversity.
Social disadvantages were mainly centred on the extra time needed to manage native biodiversity, with one farmer saying "it creates a lot of extra work".
From a practical perspective, farmers were concerned about the loss of land or production (12 per cent), and restrictions on movement around the farm.
Twenty-two percent of farmers said there were no disadvantages – nearly three times the number that said there were no advantages.
What does this mean for the future of biodiversity on farms?
Maseyk said the survey confirmed what we already knew - there is no one "farmer voice".
It also showed pastoral farming had huge potential for hosting nature-rich landscapes, which could create many benefits for the farmers and farms as businesses.
But there were barriers identified by the respondents that meant creating these landscapes can't be left up to goodwill.
"We need investment in, and sustained commitment to, a mixed-method policy response that provides the appropriate protections for biodiversity, economic incentives to reduce financial barriers, and other practical support to encourage pro-biodiversity behaviour," Maseyk said.
"We need resources, capability and capacity building, and provision of practical and technical assistance on-farm to help with implementation."
Associate Professor Bruce Burns, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland said the study provided "a fascinating window into the unfiltered attitudes and frustrations of the farming community with respect to protecting nature".
Burns said Kiwi pastoral farmers were "unintentional guardians" of a huge wealth of New Zealand's biodiversity.
"The uneven quality of their care of these areas, however, is the source of societal tension particularly as biodiversity declines year on year."
Although responses were wide-ranging, Burns said he found it "refreshing" that most farmers highly valued the native biodiversity they lived with, and recognised it improved their quality of life.
However, a "major downside" for farmers was how to cope with the costs of managing such areas "in dollars and time", Burns said.
"The research suggests that a carrot approach to supporting farmers efforts to plant trees and control possums would be more successful than applying a stick, and provides a grounding for effective policy."
The study was published as part of the Farming & Nature Conservation project, funded by New Zealand's Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.