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Kiwi farmers identify pros and cons of conservation

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Over 90 per cent of Kiwi farmers acknowledge benefits of managing biodiversity on their farmland, according to a new survey of 500 sheep and beef farmers from around Aotearoa New Zealand. These benefits were mainly social or environmental, such as protecting land for future generations. However, most farmers also identified barriers to conservation efforts, such as financial costs or time investments. The authors say that while there is no one "farmer voice" on this issue, their findings could help guide new policies to promote pro-biodiversity practices. 

Journal/conference: New Zealand Journal of Ecology

Link to research (DOI): 10.20417/nzjecol.45.1

Organisation/s: AgResearch, AUT University, University of Canterbury, The Catalyst Group

Funder: Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

Media release

From: NZ Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

Sheep and beef farmers see huge benefits, and key barriers, to having native biodiversity on farms 

New Zealand farmers identified a wide range of advantages connected with on-farm biodiversity in a recent scientific survey. 

The study surveyed 500 sheep and beef farmers from around Aotearoa and 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.

Lead author Dr Fleur Maseyk from The Catalyst Group says “This study highlighted that many farmers associate a range of values and benefits with biodiversity on-farm – spanning social, environmental and economic themes.”

Social advantages were the most commonly recognised – with 47% of the responses describing benefits such as advantages to the farmer, their family and staff, and benefits beyond the farm gate such as intergenerational equity and meeting the responsibility of land management.

One farmer said it’s 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%), such as erosion control and improved water quality.

Only eight percent of respondents thought there were no benefits of having native biodiversity on farms. 

Dr Maseyk says, “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.”

When asked about the disadvantages of managing and protecting native biodiversity, responses were fewer (530) and grouped into economic (44%), practical (26%) and social (25%) 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%), 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?

Dr Maseyk says this survey confirms what we already knew – there is no one ‘farmer voice’. 

It also shows pastoral farming has 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 mean 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,” Dr Maseyk says.

“We need resources, capability and capacity building, and provision of practical and technical assistance on-farm to help with implementation.”

This study was published as part of the Farming & Nature Conservation project, funded by New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

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