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Should we pay to play? Charging for New Zealand’s landscape

Mt Taranaki – Harley Betts

By Daniel Papworth

New Zealand (NZ) has some of the most beautiful landscape in the entire world. However some areas are getting overrun by tourists. Over the past year 3.8 million people visited NZ’s shores[1]. Over half of them explored at least one national park or protected area[2].

NZ’s National parks system aims to preserve the country’s intrinsic worth for the enjoyment of the public. Park land contains “scenery of such distinctive quality, ecological systems, or natural features so beautiful, unique, or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest”[3]. The Department of Conservation (DOC) are charged with managing our parks, however they are seriously underfunded having around $20 a hectare of land they manage[4]. As a consequence from over use and lack of resources the beauty of these places may be at risk. Combined with climate change stress in these environments is mounting[5, 6]. Currently under the National Parks Act (1980) DOC is unable to charge for access. Regulation of the number of people visiting these area’s needs to be implemented to conserve them and their beauty.

Travelling abroad, you will almost always be charged to enter a national park. Chris Roberts, CEO of Tourism Aotearoa, says that only half a dozen sites in NZ are in serious need of number management[7]. Shouldn’t we then charge tourists to see these high use sites? Money spent on entry can be directed straight back into the maintenance of these tourist hotspots. The number of people visiting at one time can be monitored and regulated if needed. Another option is a ‘conservation tax’ or ‘nature levy’. When entering NZ international visitors could pay a small sum to be given to DOC for the upkeep of these high-use areas. If 3.8 million people visit a year and each is charged $20 that comes to seventy-six million dollars, nearly a quarter of DOC’s yearly budget. The total cost to visit NZ would then be $50, still cheaper than Australia’s $58-$85 border fee[8].

So why haven’t we used any of these methods yet? The problem is relatively new. Visitor numbers have increased from 2.6-3.8 million in the last five years[9]. In recent years DOC’s budget has reduced, making their job of maintaining these areas and conserving NZ’s endangered species all the more difficult. There is also likely hesitance to the investment for infrastructure. Buildings will need to be erected, people would have to be employed to process visitors. The difficulty of putting infrastructure in place could be avoided with the border tax option. However not every visitor is going to visit a national park, and some may visit multiple. Perhaps this information needs to be collected during the visa process. Or even just a free online booking system, purely for regulation purposes. Personally I feel that New Zealanders take great pride in their natural heritage. We have a certain expectation that these sort of things should free and easy to access. It feels less intrepid when you have to wait in a que to see it, less raw.

Over Easter weekend I had the pleasure of hiking the Northern Circuit in the central North Island. The locals say they cannot believe so many people still come to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Often commenting that so many come to do it they’re surprised everyone hasn’t already done it. That Easter Sunday over 3000 people walked the crossing. All those people winding their way up the mountain, using the toilets, wearing the track, stressing the fragile alpine environment[10]. Surely people will pay a small fee to experience these kind of areas. They didn’t pay to fly all the way around the globe to turn around at the gate because of a $10 entry fee. Visitors are great for the NZ economy, and these areas should be shared, but the need for number management is increasing.

So should we pay to play? Absolutely. More regulation is needed in these hot-spots for their longevity. Reducing the stress on these areas by having a charge is an opportunity we would be silly not to do. Let’s use tourism to help fund conservation. Let’s keep NZ beautiful.



  1. Statistics New Zealand (2018). Retrieved from https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/annual-visitor-arrivals-up-more-than-1-2-million-in-five-years
  2. Department of Conservation (2017). International Visitors Survey. Retrieved from http://www.doc.govt.nz/2017-annual-report-factsheets/?report=IVS_exp_by_NPk__2017_08_28_DOC_factsheet_template
  3. National Parks Act, No 66 (1980). Retrieved from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1980/0066/latest/whole.html
  4. DOC is in desperate need of more funding (May 2017), Newshub. Retrieved from http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/05/jesse-mulligan-doc-in-dire-need-of-more-funding.html
  5. Scott, D. (2003, April). Climate change and tourism in the mountain regions of North America. In 1st International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism (pp. 9-11).
  6. Moreno, A., & Becken, S. (2009). A climate change vulnerability assessment methodology for coastal tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 17(4), 473-488.
  7. Visitors will keep coming if national park fees introduced (February 2017), Newshub. Retrieved from http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/02/visitors-will-keep-coming-if-national-parks-fees-introduced-industry.html
  8. New Zealand Green Party (2017). Tourism Levy Policy. Retrieved from https://www.greens.org.nz/policy/cleaner-environment/taonga-levy
  9. Statistics New Zealand (2018). Retrieved from https://www.stats.govt.nz/news/annual-visitor-arrivals-up-more-than-1-2-million-in-five-years
  10. Groot, R. (2003). The Tongariro National Park: Are We Loving it to Death? New Zealand Journal of Geography, 115(1), 1-13.

Teaching an Old Bird New Tricks: assisting the evolution of native species through selective breeding

Figure 1: A rat preying on a nesting bird 

By Rachel Selwyn

We’ve bred dogs to herd sheep, to point out hunting prey…can we breed NZ native species to fight back against introduced predators? Assisted evolution is a controversial conservation tactic but it’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

Native species on island ecosystems like in New Zealand have evolved for thousands of years without mammalian predators and without the appropriate predator avoidant behaviors1. The arrival of exotic predators like rats, stoats, and possums found the native species defenseless and had catastrophic effects on their populations2-4. In response, New Zealand has undertaken extensive eradication and predator control efforts which have helped species such as the North Island robin5-7.

Unfortunately, predator control has several flaws including the difficulty and high cost of achieving 100% eradication across the whole country8-9, the risk of unintended ecological effects10, questionable ethics11, and the never-ending battle against reintroductions12-13. Eradicating several species across an entire landmass is a massive undertaking especially given the difficulty monitoring international borders sufficiently to prevent reintroduction events. An alternative approach is to help native species adapt to the presence of new predators, through selective breeding, to create a sustainable coexistence of predator and prey.

The underlying issue in New Zealand is the prey naïveté, or lack of antipredator behavior, of native fauna that have not had the opportunity to adapt to the presence of these new predators14. Encouraging evolutionary adaptations to arise in the native fauna through selective breeding provides an alternative solution that does not involve large-scale extermination of an entire class of species.

Figure 2: A graphic depicting the process of selectively breeding a plant species for desired increased plant height.

Humans have used selective breeding for thousands of years, choosing desirable traits in agricultural plant species and domestic animals15. Selective breeding does not just apply to physical characteristics. Domesticated dogs are an example of using this technique to promote desirable behaviors such as pointing in hunting breeds and herding in sheepdogs16. Some conservationists are advocating for selective breeding to be similarly used for wild species to choose adaptive behaviors like predator avoidance to counteract prey naïveté17. Identifying individuals from a population that demonstrate the desired behavior or characteristic and selectively breeding them together increases the prominence of this trait in the population, as seen in Figure 2. Beneficial predator avoidant traits would ordinarily develop over time through natural selection, however, it can take a long time and high levels of predation often wipe out native populations before they have a chance to adapt18.  As humans are responsible for the dramatic scale of invasions around the world, it is our responsibility to help native species adapt to the changes we have provoked.

Some anti-predator traits have begun to arise in some New Zealand species although the frequency of these traits remains too low to effectively protect them. The New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura) has begun decrease parental activity during nesting periods when predators are present in their habitat19. This behavior is believed to be adaptive as high parental activity at a nest can attract predators and lead to higher predation rates. Identifying adaptive behaviors like this would allow conservationists to deliberately breed the individual bellbirds showing this behavior and effectively speed up the process of natural selection.

Selective breeding to modify wild populations has been conducted in the past including with the plains zebra20 and with largemouth bass21. Selective breeding is currently being considered in marine conservation with species of corals and their symbionts. Researchers working to determine the genetic link within heat-tolerant corals hope to promote this trait in coral populations making them more resistant to climate change22-23.

How could we apply this to New Zealand? Kiwis couldn’t realistically be bred to fly away from predators without significantly altering them from a well-loved species. Species like the kiwi could be bred to encourage protective strategies that improve their ability to survive alongside novel predators. Captive breeding programs that are already in place, like those with the kakapo and takahe24, could be supplemented with selective breeding trials. Selective breeding would have to take place amongst all naïve prey simultaneously to avoid predators simply switching to easier less adapted prey25. Assisting evolution in New Zealand species would involve a widespread and costly effort over many years, however, this option provides a definite solution compared to the never-ending fight of eradication efforts. Critics are concerned that selective breeding for a single trait could lead to loss of genetic diversity within the population and magnification of harmful alleles26. While loss of genetic diversity is a risk with captive breeding, continually supplementing breeding efforts with individuals from the larger wild population will minimize this issue. Selective breeding may not succeed equally amongst all species so it is vital that trials are conducted in isolation with predator control maintained in wild populations.

Assisting evolution through selective breeding is a controversial and radical solution to prey naïveté that has the potential to replace predator eradication efforts. This should be conducted alongside predator control initially to provide time for adaptations to persist. There are several risks associated with this approach that merit further investigation, however, the benefit has more weight as successfully assisting native species to coexist alongside introduced predators would be a monumental conservation success. Current predator control efforts will need to continue forever to protect New Zealand’s native species, however, by selectively breeding naïve species to hold their own we can one day achieve ecosystems that can sustain themselves without human intervention.


Works cited:

  1. Bull, P.C., Whitaker, A.H. (1975). The amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Biogeography and Ecology in New Zealand 231-276. Springer, Dordrecht.
  2. Remes, V., Matysiokova, B., Cockburn, A. (2012). Nest predation in New Zealand’s songbirds: Exotic predators, introduced prey and long-term changes in predation risk. Biological Conservation148(1):54-60.
  3. O’Donnell, C.F.J., Clapperton, B.K., Monks, J.M.(2015). Impacts of introduced mammalian predators on indigenous birds of freshwater wetlands in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 39(1):19-33
  4. O’Donnell, C.F.J., Weston, K.A., Monks, J.M. (2017). Impacts of introduced mammalian predators on New Zealand’s Alpine Flora. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 41(1):1-22
  5. Armstrong, D.P.(2016). Population responses of a native bird species to rat control. The Journal of Wildlife Management 81(2):342-346.
  6. Starling-Windhof, A., Massaro, M., Briskie, J. (2011). Differential effects of exotic predator-control on nest success of native and introduced birds in New Zealand. Biological Invasions 13(4):1021-1028
  7. Whitehead, A.L., Edge, K.A., Smart, A.F., Hill, G.S., Willans, M.J. (2008). Large scale predator control improves productivity of rare New Zealand riverine duck. Biological Conservation 141(11):2784-2794.
  8. Anderson, D.P., Gormley, A.M., Ramsey, D.S.L., Nugent, G., Martin, P.A.J., Bosson, M., Livingston, P., Byrom, A.E. (2017). Bio-economic optimisation of surveillance to confirm broadscale eradications of invasive pests and diseases. Biological Invasions 19(10):2869-2884.
  9. Harding, E.K., Doak, D.F., Albertson, J.D. (2002). Evaluating the effectiveness of predator control : the non-native red fox as a case study. Conservation Biology 15(4):1114-1122.
  10. Keller Kopf, R., Nimmo, D.G., Humphries, P., Baumgartner, L.J., Bode, M., Bond, N.R., Byrom, A.E., Cucherousset, J., Keller, R.P., King, A.J., McGinness, H.M., Moyle, P.B., Olden, J.D. (2017). Confronting the risks of large-scale invasive species control. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1
  11. Souther, C.E.(2016). The Cruel Culture of Conservation Country: Non-Native Animals and the Consequences of Predator-Free New Zealand. Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 26(1):63-119.
  12. Russell, J.C., Brown, P.H., Byrom, A.E.(2015). Predator-free New Zealand: Conservation Country. BioScience 65(5):520-525.
  13. King, C.M., McDonald, R.M., Martin, R.D., Dennis, T.(2009). Why is eradication of invasive mustelids so difficult? Biological Conservation 142(4):806-816.
  14. Sih, A., Bolnick, D.I., Luttbeg, B., Orrock, J.L., Peacor, S.D., Pintor, L.M., Preisser, E., Rehage, J.S., Vonesh, J.R. (2010). Predator-prey naïveté, antipredator behavior, and the ecology of predator invasions. Oikos 119:610-621.
  15. Akey, J.M., Ruhe, A.L., Akey, D.T., Wong, A.K., Connelly, C.F., Madeoy, J., Nicholas, T.J., Neff, M.W. (2010). Tracking footprints of artificial selection in the dog genome. PNAS 107(3):1160-1165.
  16. Akaad, D.A., Gerding, W.M., Gasser, R.B., Epplen, J.T. (2015). Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 2:5.
  17. Moseby, K.E., Blumstein, D.T., Letnic, M. (2015). Harnessing natural selection to tackle the problem of prey naïveté. Evolutionary Applications 9(2):334-343.
  18. Owens, I.P.F., Bennett, P.M. (2000). Ecological basis of extinction risk in birds: Habitat loss versus human persecution and introduced predators. PNAS 97(22):12144-12148.
  19. Massaro, M., Starling-Windhof, A., Briskie, J.V., Martin, T.E. (2008). Introduced Mammalian Predators Induce Behavioral Changes in Parental Care in an Endemic New Zealand Bird. PLoS ONE 3(6):2331.
  20. Harley, E.H., Knight, M.H., Lardner, C., Wooding, B., Gregor, M. (2009). The Quagga project: progress over 20 years of selective breeding. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 39(2):155-163.
  21. Garrett, G. (2002). Behavioral modification of angling vulnerability in Largemouth bass through selective breeding. Black bass: ecology, conservation, and management. American Fisheries Society, Editors: D. P. Philip and M.S. Ridgeway. 387-392.
  22. Baums, I.B. (2008). A restoration genetics guide for coral reef conservation. Molecular Ecology 17(12):2796-2811.
  23. Barshis, D.J., Ladner, J.T., Oliver, T.A., Seneca, F.O., Traylor-Knowles, N., Palumbi, S.R. (2013). Genomic basis for coral resilience to climate change. PNAS 110(4):1387-1392
  24. Clout, M.N., Craig, J.L. (1995). The conservation of critically endangered flightless birds in New Zealand. International Journal of Avian Science 137(s1):181-190.
  25. Kjellander, P., Nordstrom, J. (2003). Cyclic voles, prey switching in red fox, and roe deer dynamics- a test of the alternative prey hypothesis. Oikos 101(2): 338-344.
  26. Miller, P.S. (1995). Selective breeding programs for rare alleles: examples from the przewalski’s horse and California condor pedigrees. Conservation Biology 9(5):12621273.


Image 1: https://thespinoff.co.nz/science/06-05-2017/what-if-the-predator-free-2050-plan-is-actually-a-terrible-idea/

Image 2: https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-selective-breeding



Conservation versus Agriculture: Searching for a solution to New Zealand’s land-use conundrum.

By David Munro

In New Zealand, conservation and agriculture are often considered two polar opposites in terms of land management. Conservation aims to restore native biodiversity, something commonly achieved by reverting land from farmland to native bush and encouraging the return of wildlife. Agriculture however, often works against this by actively removing native habitat to make room for pasture for the grazing of introduced livestock. New Zealand policy makers are stuck between a rock and a hard place,

Dairy cattle in Taranaki, New Zealand. Dairy is one of New Zealand’s largest primary industries. Credit: Dave Young.

as on one hand they actively encourage and practice conservation, but also need to support agriculture as it is the backbone of the New Zealand economy. In fact, over half of New Zealand’s total land area is used for the sheep, beef and dairy industries (Statistics NZ, 2012), and the revenue earned from these is the single largest contributor to the New Zealand economy (Walls, 2017). How, then, can agriculture and conservation work together to both achieve their goals if they are currently practiced in such directly opposing ways?


Globally, scientists are now calling for a union of agriculture and conservation. Conservationists are discovering that protecting reserves alone will be insufficient to preserve biodiversity (Garcia et al., 2005). Meanwhile. It has been widely suggested that a solution to the problem of competing land uses is to adopt low-intensity farming where agriculture and conservation are practiced on the same land (Bignal et al., 1996; Matson & Vitousek, 2006). Our frame of thought must shift from viewing agriculture and conservation as two opposing practices, but rather see them together as one integrated land-type which meets both food production and conservation goals.

The two most common features of low-intensity farming are riparian buffer zones and habitat islets. Riparian buffer zones are areas along the margins of waterways which are not used for grazing, and they can take many forms.In New Zealand, riparian buffers often involve having up to 10 metres of native bush planted along each flank of a waterway. This provides habitat for terrestrial species while also reducing soil erosion, preventing leaching of fertilizer into waterways, as well as shading the waterway, improving the water quality for aquatic species (Ryan et al., 2003; Matson et al., 1997; Joy & Death, 2013).

An example of riparian planting in New Zealand. Retrieved from DairyNZ

Habitat islets refer to patches (‘islets’) of native habitat in a sea of pasture. These islets provide habitat for native species, improve surrounding soil quality by depositing leaf litter, and provide shade and shelter for livestock (Beneyas et al., 2008; Erickson et al., 2002). These islets allow for regular agricultural practices to continue around them , while low-intensity farming offers a solution where agriculture can continue over large scales. Low-intensity farming provides benefits for both conservation efforts and agricultural practices, but is not without its downsides.

Small patches of habitat, such as those created by riparian buffer zones and habitat islets, have fundamental differences to large reserves. Some animal species, including many of New Zealand’s native birds, are described as timid to open habitats. This means that they will not inhabit small habitat fragments or dwell near the edge of a forest, and therefore require large forested habitats in which they can roam. Because of this, low-intensity farming may be unsuccessful at conserving a large number of our native species (Green et al., 2005), and may instead favour less timid exotic species. These patches of habitat often also harbour pest species such as rats and possums (Ryan et al., 2003; Beneyas et al., 2008; Matson et al., 1997). The former is of concern to conservation, as it is a predator species for many native birds and insects, while the latter is a carrier of bovine tuberculosis. If these habitat patches harbour possums, then they may be of concern to agricultural practices. The risk of a herd of cattle becoming infected with bovine tuberculosis has been found to be higher the closer the herd is to an area of bush (Porphyre et al., 2008). Areas of low-intensity farming also tend to be less productive than areas of intensive farming, typically due to a lower density of livestock (Green et al., 2005). Because of this, low-intensity farming requires more land to achieve the same levels of production as highly intensive farming. This in turn reduces the amount of land available for the large conservation reserves which are required for the conservation of timid species. It may therefore make sense to maximise the land for conservation by minimising the amount of agriculture area, which can only be achieved by further intensification of agriculture.

Having habitat islets within agriculture is one method of low-intensity agriculture. Retrieved from Bird Life International.

How then should New Zealand approach this land-use conundrum? Low-intensity agriculture not only provides benefits for conservation, but also provides a number of other environmental, economic and productive gains. Costs such as the initial establishment of and pest management within habitat patches and will be outweighed in the long run by the prevention of soil erosion, return of ecosystem services, and by aesthetic and moral value of assisting conservation efforts. Despite the large area of land necessary for low-intensity farming to match the production of high-intensity farming, the benefits outweigh the negatives. This leaves one final question, how can we successfully integrate conservation and agriculture?

Conservationists and farmers frequently butt heads over issues facing New Zealand, and achieving cooperation between these two parties can often be difficult. Harvey et al. (2008) suggests a framework for encouraging farmers to adopt low-intensity practices and to avoid this conflict. The suggestions include:

  1. Using economic tools as incentive for participation, such as subsidising establishment costs,
  2. Improve environmental laws and their enforcement to ensure a baseline level of cooperation,
  3. Strengthen ties between farmers, conservationists and other groups, aligning their goals and encouraging collaboration,
  4. Provide and encourage participation in certification schemes, and
  5. Leverage political support at multiple levels, including local and district council’s as well as centralised government.

While these suggestions provide a good theoretical framework, other studies have suggested that the most important motivating factors for a farmer to partake in conservation practices on their land are to do with the value they place on their land (Ryan et al., 2003; Erickson et al., 2002). This includes wanting to preserve the land and/or nature for future generations, and appearing to be good stewards of the land. Possessing these values made it more likely for farmers to practice conservation than external factors such as economic gain (Ryan et al., 2003). Instilling pride in New Zealand’s natural heritage may become the most useful tool for encouraging the adoption of low-intensity farming in New Zealand’s rural communities.

Low-intensity farming is one of many possible solutions to New Zealand’s competing land-use dilemma. By integrating conservation and agricultural practices on the same land, the benefits of each can still be achieved, albeit in a less comprehensive manner than when the two operate separately. Low-intensity farming may not provide all of the solutions to land-use related problems, but fostering cooperation between conservationists and farmers will go a long way toward reaching a more sustainable future for this country.


Works Cited

Benayas, J. M. R., Bullock, J. M., & Newton, A. C. (2008). Creating woodland islets to reconcile ecological restoration, conservation, and agricultural land use. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(6), 329-336.

Bignal, E. M., & McCracken, D. I. (1996). Low-intensity farming systems in the conservation of the countryside. Journal of Applied Ecology, 413-424.

Bird Life International. (2003). Less Favoured Areas and High Nature Value farmland. Retrieved from: http://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/less-favoured-areas-and-high-nature-value-farmland

DairyNZ. Retrieved from: https://www.dairynz.co.nz/environment/waterways/

Erickson, D. L., Ryan, R. L., & De Young, R. (2002). Woodlots in the rural landscape: landowner motivations and management attitudes in a Michigan (USA) case study. Landscape and Urban Planning, 58(2), 101-112.

Foley, J. A., DeFries, R., Asner, G. P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S. R., … & Helkowski, J. H. (2005). Global consequences of land use. Science, 309(5734), 570-574.

Garcia, C. A., Bhagwat, S. A., Ghazoul, J., Nath, C. D., Nanaya, K. M., Kushalappa & Vaast, P. (2010). Biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes: challenges and opportunities of coffee agroforests in the Western Ghats, India. Conservation Biology, 24(2), 479-488.

Green, R. E., Cornell, S. J., Scharlemann, J. P., & Balmford, A. (2005). Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science, 307(5709), 550-555.

Harvey, C. A., Komar, O., Chazdon, R., Ferguson, B. G., Finegan, B., Griffith & Van Breugel, M. (2008). Integrating agricultural landscapes with biodiversity conservation in the Mesoamerican hotspot. Conservation biology, 22(1), 8-15.

Joy, M. K., & Death, R. G. (2013). Freshwater biodiversity. Ecosystem Services In New Zealand. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand.

Matson, P. A., Parton, W. J., Power, A. G., & Swift, M. J. (1997). Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science, 277(5325), 504-509.

Matson, P. A., & Vitousek, P. M. (2006). Agricultural intensification: will land spared from farming be land spared for nature?. Conservation Biology, 20(3), 709-710.

Porphyre, T., Stevenson, M. A., & McKenzie, J. (2008). Risk factors for bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand cattle farms and their relationship with possum control strategies. Preventive veterinary medicine, 86(1), 93-106.

Ryan, R. L., Erickson, D. L., & De Young, R. (2003). Farmers’ motivations for adopting conservation practices along riparian zones in a mid-western agricultural watershed. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 46(1), 19-37.

Young, D. (2012). Cattle in New Zealand. Retrieved from: http://www.fauna-flora.org/new-zealands-changing-landscape/taranaki-dairy-farm/