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Conservation of Man

Conservation of Man
Charlie Hopkins

You are poor. Uneducated. Your children are ill and starved. You pack your things and move to the village down the river where the new station has opened. A strange looking man offers you a job amongst the crops and puts your children in school. Development offers hope. Several generations later, the crops have wilted, the stock have died and your grandchildren are poor. New, stranger looking men are replanting the old crops your parents told you about. But you do not remember how to sustain them. You are industrial pollution. I am conservation.

Environmental capitalism makes mothers laugh while their babies cry. What could possibly be worse than this? People are the leading cause for therequirement of conservation. They are also the solution. Although this initially seems paradoxical, the concept of people is vital in conservation. Land-owners, indigenous people, developers, public and government all have diverse and significant roles in conservation (Chan et al., 2007). Human reliance on nature began with the hunter-gatherer, although industrialisation has since removed our society from nature, increasing exploitation of our natural ecosystems.

Conservation is an active process – inactivity seldom achieves results. Successful conservation strategies demand a change to human activity as a dichotomyexists between human industrialisation and ‘pristine wilderness’. This paradox explainswhy conservation is in high demand. Public sensitivity of pristine wildernessdrives conservation efforts because they are poles apart fromour daily environment and the priority of modern people is to arrest the decline in our current ecosystems. The worst future venture for conservation science is the loss of public support – the conflict between economic development and environmental conservation needs to stop.

Environmental resources, such as urban green spaces, are accessible through ‘top-down’ organisations or governing bodies that have the authority over investments. Top-down conservation is easier without community involvement, although there are numerous socio-political advantages of having a biophilic population(Ban et al., 2013).A greater awareness of the environmental footprint of economic developmentincreases concerns when the consequences become implicit to the public. Resentment is then turned into appreciation when the results of conservation funding are directly beneficial to the public.

Essential primary industries such as agriculture are employed to feed populations, however often leave heavy footprints on water environments through practices such as water extraction, fertiliser and pesticide use. Carbon based fuel extraction and consumption, which is primarily used for transport and electricity production, has implications on atmospheric integrity.Deforestation for timberand accessibility to farmland, draining of wetlands and confinement of rivershave been the leading causes of terrestrial degradationwhile over-harvesting of fish and other wildlife are the leading causes of ecological decline in marine settings. These activities produce vast economies across the globe and conserving the species involved is not as simple as reducing intensity. Virtually limitless complexity is involved in the social, cultural, economic and ecological characteristics of current conservation actions.

Conservation and biosecurity are dominant processes in New Zealand’s environmental management strategy. New Zealandhas a vast range of physical environments, densely compacted into a small mainland causing steep niche partitions. The extended period of isolation since New Zealand’s separation has resulted in an advanced degree of biological differentiation and endemism. Species such as the Moa (Ratite), Weta (Orthoptera), Tuatara (Sphenodon spp.) and the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)are exclusive to New Zealand biota. The evolution of such species in the absence of mammalian predators has led to the recent destruction of such fragile ecosystems over the last 700 years with the introduction of rat (Rattus spp.), mouse (Mus musculus), Mustelidae,cats (Felis catus) and possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) among other pests.

New Zealand’s conservation forces, primarily the Department of Conservation (DOC) and regional councils, are regarded as world leaders in clearing off-shore islands of pest and weed species to create pre-human environments. The developed methods are spilling-over into mainland island projects such as Wainuiomata Mainland Island or Boundary Stream Mainland Island. The largest aspects of New Zealand conservation are to improve pest control methods andcapturethe decline of native specieswhilealso improving public education of the environment (Logan, 2001).

New Zealand is uniquebecause its people are biophilicand therefore conservation can involve community groups, schools, or local companies mucking-in. This pride in the environment is reflected in many local restoration projects such as Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Here, 300,000 trees have been planted since the island becamepest free in 1993, and has since seen the reintroduction of North Island Robin, Takahe and Tuatara through the hard work of DOC & Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Incorporated (Michel, Dickinson, Barratt, & Jamieson, 2010).

New Zealanders are not so much harmed, but just restricted, by limitations imposed on economic quotas. This is important as the largest industries, tourism and agriculture, worryingly rely on environmental quality. Conservation is often perceived to limit economic ventures such as logging, fishing, mining, and agriculture in New Zealand. Arresting New Zealand’s biodiversity decline would require economic change.This would, although perhaps not financially, return a gain on investmentthrough social and health benefits (McShane et al., 2011). Investment into projects such as Zealandia,which allow spill-over and community visitation,would produce greater social and cultural benefits than near-shore island restorations such as Tiritiri Matangi or Kapiti Island.

Globally, the distribution of human poverty overlays areas of biological wealth(McShane et al., 2011). Indigenous populations can lose traditions through the prosperity of economic growth. Development often only translatesintolowly skilled labour for an indigenous party – while the loss of customs is invaluable. The establishment of conservation regulations are often initially opposed due to economic sanctions although could allow restoration ofcustomary utilisation of the environment. The loss of traditional practices restricts people in their culture and livelihood and these losses are often not compensated by industrialisation as the profits of environmental exploitation are often absorbed by managerial organisations.

The most urgent demand of conservation is the role of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services such as climate regulation, crop pollination, toxin mediation, water and air purification are essential to a functional population (Balmford et al., 2002). Biodiversity can focus on two separate aspects: species diversity and functional diversity(Daily et al., 2000). Species diversity focuses on the variety of taxa found within an environmentwhile functional biodiversity categorises the servicethat the community provides.Species diversity is important from a holistic approach while functional diversity is important for ecosystem services, such as primary producers or biocontrol agents. Biodiversity provides insurance for ecosystem services, through maintaining the benefit of knowledge and variation. Biodiversity also offers adaptability to long term stochasticity, especially in the environment and biosecurity of agriculture and forestry.A diverse community will also lead to a broader, more intense demand for resources which makes it harder for exotic species to invade. The value of ecosystem services is the amount that it saves the economy(Daily et al., 2000)however the value of biodiversity is much greater as it includes social, cultural and ecological values.

Interaction with nature hasconspicuous advantages on human wellbeing and health. The primary influence of nature on human populations is no longer a resource for survival, rather an improved quality of life. Regular connections with nature, such as community-led conservation projects, can lead to increased cognitive function, physiological well-being, social participation, increased motivation and spiritual awareness(Keniger, Gaston, Irvine, & Fuller, 2013). Indirect effects could include decreased crime rates and anti-social behaviour, health benefits, growth in education rates and economic productivity, and an increased awareness of nature.The tragedy of shifting baselines is the failure of our generation to recognise significant declines in biodiversity due to the absence of such experiences. Stockholm is Europe’s first Green Capital, hereby providing a framework for sustainable urban planning. The Vision 2030 plan will increase living standards and decrease the environmental footprint in Stockholm through the development of sustainable transport, land and water use, energy production, waste treatment improvements and safe building codes (Jezovit, 2010).

Modern development and industrialisation has led to a shift from a reliance on nature for subsistence hunting and gathering to a social and recreational approach (Keniger et al., 2013). This has led to a dichotomy between man-kind and nature. The demand for conservation will only strengthen because of the benefits of biodiversity, and human interaction with a healthy environment (Keniger et al., 2013). It is in our best interest to conserve and interact with nature, rather than perceive the environment as an exploitable resource. Whether conservation is focused on the benefits towardhuman populations or genuinely for preservation of biodiversity, community involvement in government supported projects will lead to healthier communities and construct a sustainable future as a foundation for a better world.

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” – Greek proverb



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Ban, N. C., Mills, M., Tam, J., Hicks, C. C., Klain, S., Stoeckl, N., . . . Chan, K. M. A. (2013). A social-ecological approach to conservation planning: embedding social considerations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11(4), 194-202.

Chan, K. M. A., Pringle, R. M., Ranganathan, J., Boggs, C. L., Chan, Y. L., Ehrlich, P. R., . . . Macmynowski, D. P. (2007). When agendas collide: Human welfare and biological conservation. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 59-68.

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McShane, T. O., Hirsch, P. D., Tran Chi, T., Songorwa, A. N., Kinzig, A., Monteferri, B., . . . O’Connor, S. (2011). Hard choices: Making trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Biological Conservation, 144(3), 966-972.

Michel, P., Dickinson, K. J. M., Barratt, B. I. P., & Jamieson, I. G. (2010). Habitat selection in reintroduced bird populations: a case study of Stewart Island robins and South Island saddlebacks on Ulva Island. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 34(2), 237-246.



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