Kiwis put water quality at No 1

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 17/12/2013

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It seems Palmerston North ecologist Mike Joy's message has started to get through, with a survey of more than 2000 New Zealanders identifying water as the biggest environmental issue facing New Zealand.

Further, some 56 per cent of respondents in Lincoln University's Public Perception of New Zealand's Environment: 2013 study believed farming was the main cause of freshwater damage, compared to just 26 per cent in the 2000 survey.

Dr Joy has been an outspoken critic of the role that farming plays in environmental damage, a position that has been criticised by the likes of Federated Farmers and Prime Minister John Key.

Dr Joy said he had expected water quality, and farming's role in it, to increase in importance in this year's survey, due in part to increased media coverage of these matters.

"People realise the difference between the spin from industry and what's coming out of universities and people like the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment."

Commissioner Jan Wright recently issued a report on the relationship between changes in land use and water quality.

Dr Joy said he was not anti-farming and said it could be, and needed to be, done sustainably.

"It's not environment versus the economy, that's a false kind of dichotomy," he said.

"What's good for the environment is also good for the economy."

Changing people's perceptions would only achieve so much, Dr Joy said, but he hoped that as people became more aware of issues, the government of the day would be forced to take more actio.

But while his messages about the relationship between farming and water quality are getting through, his view that New Zealand is not the clean, green paradise it claims to be has not sunk in with the public.

The survey found, on average, that New Zealanders perceive the state of the natural environment to be adequate or good; that New Zealand is perceived to be clean and green; and that, as individuals, the respondents considered themselves to have good knowledge about the environment.

According to Professor Ken Hughey, one big surprise in the survey was the disparity between the respondents' perception of the state of New Zealand's biodiversity compared with reality.

"Most respondents considered the condition of New Zealand's native plants and animals to be ‘adequate' or ‘good', yet past reports from organisations such as [the Department of Conservation] and the Ministry for the Environment suggest otherwise, and significantly so," Prof Hughey said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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