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Meet the people taking care of Auckland's environment

Published: 18 November 2020

From Auckland's beaches and harbours to its bush, parks and reserves, our region's environment is spectacular, and tied to our quality of life.

In the past 10 years, Auckland Council has worked to preserve and improve our environment, putting in place plans and strategies to protect Tāmaki Makaurau for future generations.

See more about our environmental work here.

On the ground, work is carried out by a team dedicated to managing our natural spaces, protecting native plants and animals and tackling pests.

Meet three people who are helping take care of our environment:

Tim Lovegrove - Senior Regional Advisor (Fauna)

Tim has guided the kōkako recovery project in the Hunua Ranges, helped set up Tāwharanui and Shakespear open sanctuaries and has been involved in bird conservation management and monitoring for over 30 years; his knowledge of the native bird world is vast. And he’s a modern-day “Dr Dolittle” - since a young age, he’s been able to speak the language of birds.

Tim is passionate about the work he does for the council and for the environment. When asked if the environment has improved over the last 10 years, he points to the sanctuary work he’s been involved in which has achieved spectacular results but says across the wider landscape of the Auckland region, improvements have been more subtle. However, community pest control projects in neighbourhoods and local parks is resulting in increasing numbers of more common birds such as kererū and tūī returning to backyards and for Tim, having missing birds such as kākā and korimako/ bellbird reappear is thrilling.

The Natural Environment Targeted Rate has certainly been a lifeline for the environment, but the big challenge is to keep the momentum going and ensuring there is sufficient funding to keep all the pest control programmes running.

“We need to fund further research to improve our pest-control tools,” says Tim. “Predator-free 2050 is unachievable with current pest control methods, management of major pests like mice, feral cats and hedgehogs were missing from the original proposal which targets rats, stoats and possums. New tools such as genetic technologies may be required to achieve long-term success with some of the pests that are more difficult to remove.”

A former Auckland Regional Council regional parks and natural heritage employee Tim is now passing his bird knowledge onto other members of the council’s natural environment team as well as community groups.

When asked what makes his work so special, Tim says: “Having the opportunity through my work to ensure future generations get to see and enjoy the natural world around them. By experiencing it first-hand they also learn to value and protect their local environment and the unique biodiversity it holds."

And his utopia for the future? That’s an easy answer for Tim – New Zealand free of all introduced pests of course!

Matt Bloxham – Freshwater ecologist 

Care of all things “freshwatery” across the council – that’s how Matt describes his work. Anything from advice on freshwater habitat improvement, species recovery, consent and plan changes to fish passages, he even gets himself involved in stormwater projects, in his words, “for aquatic communities to flourish, water quality and instream habitats need to be up to the job.”

Matt also holds the responsibility for preserving the future of the increasingly rare native freshwater species, a task not without its challenges and he is constantly amazed by the selfless people in the community who give time freely for environmental outcomes.

Asked if Auckland’s environment had improved in the last 10 years, Matt says that with all the development pressure, Auckland’s freshwater ecosystems are facing some significant hurdles. Matt says, “I’m a little more chipper about some of the species recovery work we’re doing as we are achieving in this area but there’s still a lot of work left to do before we can shout from the rooftops that giant kokopu, short jawed kokopu, inanga, lamprey and black mudfish are here to stay.”

A major focus of Matt’s work is stream rehabilitation. He says many of our streams suffer from what is known as “urban stream syndrome” where urbanisation leads to the degradation of natural waterways through contamination, nutrient imbalances and impacts on native species. But there’s plenty of opportunities still to kick start stream recovery across the region and some of that work is already underway.

And what would be Matt’s utopia be for the future? “Boundless numbers of juvenile freshwater fish migrating freely from the ocean into streams, wetlands and lakes, flowing clear and cool with ample instream habitat and few pressures.”

Bec Stanley – Curator Botanic Gardens

She loves all things green, they intrigued her while young and led her into the career jungle that is botany.

Botanist Bec is a curator at the council’s Auckland Botanic Gardens where visitors leave with a greater appreciation for plants in everyday lives and knowledge of what plants thrive in the Auckland region.

“It’s not possible to exaggerate the importance of plants in our lives,” says Bec. “We even themed the visitor centre as the planet Mars for a summer to highlight that life actually isn’t possible without plants.”

Conservation is a big focus at the Gardens; each year 65,000 native plants are grown for restoring habitats on regional parks. A helping hand is given to plants threatened with extinction; they’re held in the care of the Gardens, like an insurance policy, in case anything should happen to them in the wild; they’re also grown and seeds collected and stored.

When asked if the Auckland environment has improved since amalgamation, Bec says what she’s noticed most is the increased community interest in restoration and community-based pest and weed control work to protect the environment.

“Over the past ten years, we’ve seen visitor numbers to the Gardens grow from just under 700,000 per year to 1.2 million. There’s also been an increase in the number of volunteers working with us every week.“

“During lockdown there was a huge spike in the number of downloads of our online plant advice. I like to think people are seeing the value of the environment for both biodiversity and our own health and wellbeing,” enthuses Bec.

But challenges are never far away; urban growth is putting pressure on space; living with smaller or no gardens is straining our ability to provide urban habitats for biodiversity. Research is underway to find the best plants to use in green infrastructure to support that biodiversity, improve water quality and the aesthetics of the city.

And her utopia for the future? “That we all appreciate our health and well-being, and the health of the environment are inseparable.”  This she says, is never more evident than when people are involved in gardening – “it is good for the soul and heals both us and the environment.”

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