Reconnecting Northland (RN) represents a pioneering ‘large landscape’ approach to environmental restoration — seeking to engage people with their environment, over a large area and a long period of time, on a scale and with connectivity not previously tried.
RN fits within the realm of Connectivity Conservation, a relatively new approach to conservation that encourages small, local environmental projects to connect with each other so that their efforts together have more benefits than an isolated series of projects. This also takes into account the wider relationships people have with the environment: social, cultural, spiritual and economic.
In 2012, and in consultation with local and international experts, The Tindall Foundation (TFF) determined Northland to represent the best prospects for this approach in New Zealand. WWF-New Zealand and Landcare Trust became the ‘on the ground’ partners, with the goal being for RN to evolve into its own, autonomous trust.
While TFF developed the initial concept, other funders joined in support of the project — in particular Foundation North, which remains an integral funding partner, and HSBC Bank, which provided valuable initial support. And as with all new collaborative ventures, RN required a high level of trust between all parties.
Michele Frank, WWF-New Zealand Environmental Innovation and Programme Manager, describes TTF’s vision as ambitious. “The Foundation saw a gap and was willing to take a risk and deliver something that would have very real conservation outcomes. While most projects are focused on specific places and issues, this was the first really to look at a region and the environment as a whole.”
Michele describes the entire project as a collaboration between TTF and its partners. “The beautiful thing about RN is that the funders invested not just in the programme but in the staff and infrastructure needed to make it work. We had shared values of respect and integrity, and these transitioned to our funders and out into the community. We managed to build really strong relationships, which was vital to future success.”
The goal for RN to become a fully functioning trust was achieved in under five years. “The transition was completely seamless because everyone acted with real integrity. There was huge support from the partners and the funders and everyone worked together because they believe in the concept and what it is trying to achieve,” says RN Chairperson Bronwyn Bauer-Hunt.
“We have put our hearts and minds into this project and our DNA is in the soil up here. Our partners and funders have come on this journey with us, but they understood the importance and significance of us operating as our own trust, based in Northland.”
Work undertaken within RN has made a tangible difference to the local environment.
On Northland’s east coast, for example, Kiwi Coast is providing support to more than 100 community-led kiwi recovery projects across 290 kilometres of coastline. The hard work of these groups has boosted kiwi in managed areas, bucking the national trend of a 2% annual decrease. The Backyard Kiwi community project in the Whangarei Heads area provides one of the most dramatic increases in kiwi numbers — from 80 just five years ago to over 800 today.
These and other successes have had a flow-on effect, inspiring smaller groups in the region, Bronwyn reports. “It’s really exciting to know we have the capacity and capability to strengthen other groups. We have increased the awareness of the importance of being ‘kaitiaki’ of our environment, as well as the concept of connectivity and working together as a true collective.”
Bronwyn says RN shows the benefits of ‘economies of scale’, sharing resources such as money, tools and people to have a wider reaching impact. And while RN is now forging its own path, TTF, Foundation North and WWF-New Zealand remain involved in a supporting role.
“RN has managed to get the right people with the right attitude on board. We built things from the bottom up and now it is really hitting its straps. It’s been everything we dreamed it would be,” Michele concludes.
Caring for our Environment
2012 – present