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Partnerships working well, says DOC

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 02/06/2014

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The controversial Department of Conservation partnerships programme is proving to be a game-changer, says Nelson District conservation partnership manager Martin Rodd.

Driven by budget cuts resulting in a nationwide restructuring, the new national conservation structure, launched last September, saw staff reconfigured into two work streams.

One is focused on delivering conservation, and the other on developing working partnerships with the community and businesses to support conservation.

Rodd said the transition had been a hard road.

"It's been tougher and bigger than imagined. But we had really good understanding from partners as we tried to transition. Now we are getting to the point where we are starting to land it.

"Some of the interest from partners has been greater than we imagined, and we have to be careful we deliver. We want to focus on opportunities but are looking after existing partners first so we can meet expectations."

There are 104 conservation partnerships between DOC and the community, iwi and businesses in the Nelson district. It excludes Nelson Lakes, which falls under Marlborough.

Rodd said there had been increasing interest from the Nelson region's two councils and business groups, like tourism operators' support of the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust and Nelson Forests' indication of support for wilding pine management in Mt Richmond Forest Park.

He said all the district's priority projects had been identified and divided between DOC's conservation and partnership managers. "It's a team approach."

Back country projects that would be maintained by DOC staff included the whio security site deep in Kahurangi National Park, which attracted Genesis Energy funding but was too remote for full community involvement, he said.

An early partnerships success story had been the interest around the restoration of the Waimea Estuary.

"We knew the estuary was significant but it needed a lot of input to get good outcomes on the ground, and while the strategic work had been done, the specific projects were limited."

Since September, Al Check, the Motueka-based partnerships ranger, has been working with interested groups, connecting projects and identifying gaps.

"We could not do this previously, as it needed a dedicated person. Now the uptake and interest is so great it has literally taken off," Rodd said.

"I don't think we would have seen such a shift in the estuary project under the former structure."

Rodd acknowledged that conservation work was never-ending but said DOC linked school children with local national park projects, such as the privately funded Project Janszoon in Abel Tasman National Park.

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"It's all about futureproofing conservation with the younger generation."

‘There is light at the end of the tunnel - and it's a bright light."

Forest and Bird regional field officer Debs Martin said some DOC staff were still coming to grips with what their new roles meant, and there had been problems trying to communicate with both partnership and technical staff over single issues.

"On the ground, there are a lot of people working on partnership stuff, but we are still waiting to see if it means work is not being done. I think at the moment, we are all still feeling our way."

Martin said she was concerned that DOC's recent "Battle for the Birds" project had seen funding cut from other work, and submitters felt disenfranchised with DOC Hokitika making decisions about possible mining in the Cobb Valley.

"But in terms of one-on-one, DOC staff are still an awesome bunch of people - I just wish they were better resourced."

Friends of Flora chairman Peter Adams said the voluntary organisation managed to retain its former DOC contacts and effectively bypassed most of DOC's transition process.

"The partnership people have been very supportive, but they are not our main point of contact, and we do not have a lot to do with them on a day-to-day level, although they are useful for long-term stuff."

Adams said the transition had been " a bit messy' and there was still some overlap of roles.

"I would not say we have gained a lot from it. We make it work because we are established and are dealing with the same people - it's just they are wearing different hats."

Kim McGlashen of the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust said the group, formed in 2007, was one of the first partnerships between the community, DOC and commercial operators, and enjoyed continuity through DOC's transition process.

- Nelson

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