The study’s lead author Dr Fleur Maseyk says phone interviews with 500 farmers found only 8% of them thought there were no benefits to having native biodiversity on the properties.
Maseyk says social advantages were the most commonly recognised benefit, with 47% of responses describing advantages to farmers, their families 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.
As well as identifying the values and benefits of biodiversity on-farm, the study highlighted sticking points that act as barriers to enhancing biodiversity in farming landscapes.
Economic concerns were the most common, in particular the cost of protecting biodiversity, along with the extra time needed to manage native biodiversity, with one farmer saying “it creates a lot of extra work”.
From a practical perspective, 12% farmers were concerned about the loss of land or production, and restrictions on movement around the farm.
Of those farmers surveyed, 22% said there were no disadvantages to encouraging native biosecurity – nearly three times the number who said there were no advantages.
Maseyk says the survey 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 are barriers 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,” she says.
“We need resources, capability and capacity building, and provision of practical and technical assistance on-farm to help with implementation.”
Plant and Food Research beneficial biodiversity team member Dr Melanie Davidson says the study highlights the need to show how native bush on farmland can bring an economic benefit to farmers, such as providing habitat for beneficial insects (pollinators, predators of insect pests, and decomposers), erosion control, carbon sequestration, excess nutrient uptake and improving water quality of streams and lakes.
“The message that came through was that we need to do more to support farmers in protecting our native bush, whether it’s getting out and helping farmers’ plant native plants on their property or providing better access to information and advice on how to manage and protect biodiversity on their farms,” she said.
University of Auckland associate professor of biological sciences Bruce Burns says it was refreshing that most farmers did highly value the native biodiversity they lived with, and recognised it improved their quality of life.
“The major downside for farmers was how they should cope with the costs of managing such areas in dollars and time. The research suggests that a carrot approach to supporting farmers’ efforts to plant trees and control possums would be more successful than applying a stick, and provides a grounding for effective policy,” he said.
This study was published in the NZ Journal of Ecology as part of the Farming & Nature Conservation project, funded by New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.