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Source: New Zealand Government

Tēnā koutou katoa.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, even though I can’t be with you in person.

Bringing back nature

At a time when biodiversity loss and climate change are becoming more urgent and complex problems, I can’t think of a more suitable theme than “bringing back nature.”

It reflects the vision set out in Te Mana o Te Taiao – the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. Beautifully summarised by the phase ‘Te mauri hikahika o te Taiao’, the Strategy imagines a future where nature is vibrant and vigorous, and the health of both nature and of people has been restored.

It also reminds me of the Predator Free 2050 goal and the commitment from people all across Aotearoa to encourage birds back to their backyards, farms and parks by removing introduced predators.

Bringing back nature will not only help to restore ecosystems and environments, but it will also provide benefits to the wellbeing of people, our societies, and our economies.

It would also help with tackling the greatest environmental challenge of our time – climate change. Thriving biodiversity can be part of the solution, providing resilience to some of the predicted impacts of climate change.

Of course bringing back nature is not an easy task and I want to acknowledge all the hard work and passion that Forest & Bird puts in to support nature and community conservation.

There are many challenges we face that require transformative action. Today I’d like to talk about a few areas the Government is focussing on.

Te Mana o te Taiao

Te Mana o te Taiao, the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, is a priority for this Government. It proposes a bold and exciting direction for the future of biodiversity, recognising that we need to do things differently to achieve success.

Something that sets it apart from previous strategies is the recognition that people are a part of nature, not separate from it. There are many benefits of increased and thriving biodiversity – from cleaner water and a stronger response to climate change, to our wider social and cultural wellbeing.  

DOC has been busy progressing implementation of Te Mana o te Taiao. The initial focus is progressing work on getting the system right – something that has been recognised as a key stumbling block for protecting and restoring biodiversity.

Actions for this include getting a robust governance system in place, robust monitoring and reporting frameworks so progress can be tracked, and legislation changes necessary to achieve the goals of the Strategy.

Te Mana o te Taiao provides an opportunity to elevate Treaty partnerships by increasing the recognition of mātauranga Māori – another step change which is essential for the biodiversity system. Tangata whenua: iwi, hapū and whānau will have a key role in the Strategy’s implementation.

A highly collaborative process was adopted to develop Te Mana o te Taiao, involving people, groups, and organisations from the flaxroots to the highest levels of government. This collaborative approach will continue in our implementation of the Strategy, and I look forward to working together on it soon.

Predator Free 2050

It has been five years since the ‘moonshot’ goal of a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050 was adopted. In that time, one of the biggest achievements has been the groundswell of action taken by communities who want to see birds return to their backyards and neighbourhoods.

I recently spoke at the Predator Free 2050 Summit, which some of you might have been at too, and it was fantastic to hear the progress that’s been made. From new tools such as self-resetting traps, to the removal of possums from a huge area of the mainland, to the successes of Predator Free community groups across the country – there is a long way to go, but we have plenty of momentum. 

Protecting and restoring oceans

Protecting and restoring our oceans is another priority. Our oceans are under pressure, and the framework for managing our marine environment can be complex and fragmented.

As a first step, the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries and I have recently released Revitalising the Gulf: Government action on the Sea Change Plan. It is a bold Government Strategy for the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park which commits Government to improving the health and mauri of the Hauraki Gulf.

The Gulf’s health is declining. The Strategy’s actions – which were developed alongside mana whenua and stakeholders – offer a shared solution to ensuring effective kaitiakitanga and the restoration of a healthy ecosystem.

The actions include increasing the area under marine protection in the Gulf from 6.6 percent (including the existing cable protection zone) to 17.6 percent. Government will also introduce a range of changes to fishing practices, including the removal of trawl fishing from the Gulf except within restricted areas to support seabed habitat recovery, intertidal harvesting controls, and catch limits to restore fish abundance.

Freshwater ecosystems

Our freshwater ecosystems, which are home to taonga species such as whitebait and tuna (eels), need attention too.

Fish habitat improvement has been advanced by Government freshwater policy aimed at enhancing the mauri of our waters, recognising te Mana o te Wai, and protecting wetlands and aquatic biodiversity. We’ve also created specific obligations for councils to provide for threatened species, by setting limits in freshwater management and improving fish passage.   

Our Government has also invested through Jobs for Nature in work to improve fish habitat and to invest in riparian improvements, including some specific work on inanga spawning protection. 

You would have seen that we have taken a step towards a sustainable whitebait fishery, with new whitebaiting regulations in place for the coming season. We aim to continue improving whitebait management over the long term, starting with gathering key information such as harvest estimates and the number of fishers, their distribution and their total effort. 

Jobs for Nature

There has been a step-change in the way conservation work is funded due to Budget 2020, which allocated over $500 million to DOC as part of the Government’s $1.245 billion Jobs for Nature programme. This investment over four years will create nature-based job opportunities throughout Aotearoa – supporting both social and environmental outcomes.

This funding is supercharging the conservation efforts of DOC, iwi and hapū, councils, and the wider community.

So far, 173 projects have been approved – totalling $432.88 million of investment over four years. These projects are expected to deliver 4858 full time equivalent roles (note, have asked for employment start numbers) over their lifetime, and have a range of outcomes including pest and predator control, riparian fencing and planting, threatened species protection, and habitat restoration.

They have been selected based on an investment framework that includes regional economic need, training, project readiness and enduring conservation outcomes. This ensures that the Jobs for Nature funding will deliver conservation benefits that are aligned to the goals of Te Mana o te Taiao and that these benefits will endure beyond the four-year funding period.

Looking to the future

I mentioned collaboration earlier. One thing that will be critical to achieving transformative action for nature is collaboration. Our ambitions will not be achieved unless we are all working together with common goals in mind, sharing knowledge, and supporting each other.

Bringing back nature is one of the best gifts we could leave for future generations, so we need to make sure we’re planning for the future. Engaging young people now is important, so that they can help shape and carry on the work.

I want to thank you all for your continued commitment to our natural environment. Forest and Bird provides a huge amount of support for nature, both on the ground and for national initiatives.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak. I’m excited by the ambitious goals we’ve set for bringing back nature – it will be challenging work, but the rewards will be worth it. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

MIL OSI