Local heroes making a difference

Benjamin Franklin's words, ''If you want something done, ask a busy person'', hold a lot of truth. ''Think globally, act locally'' is another common-sense saying. Both have particular relevance when it comes to saving the environment.

Two recent examples show how individuals and communities make a huge difference in nurturing our precious flora and fauna, and looking after our wild places.

The first involved the successful release of four little owls into the wild; the second, plans to make a large area of lowland coastal podocarp forest in the Catlins suitable for the reintroduction of indigenous species, possibly including whio (blue duck), by drastically cutting the number of predators.

Both cases highlight the dedicated enthusiasts and volunteers around New Zealand who give so much time to conservation and environmental issues.

They realise - and hope to persuade others to realise as well - that if we want to improve this country's environment we need to grasp the nettle and do it ourselves.

Nobody could convincingly argue that our environment has done anything other than deteriorate in recent years. It remains to be seen how effective the Labour-New Zealand First-Greens coalition will be in developing and pursuing robust policies to support conservation and protect the environment.

The public expectation might be that such a centre-left government will naturally shine in this area. However, the realities of the coalition agreement have already restricted the aspirations of Labour to introduce a water tax.

It will not take much, though, from the new Government and the Green Party to surpass the desultory efforts of the National government in safeguarding the environment during its nine-year term.

There will always be tensions in trying to manage both the economy and the environment in a balanced way. But in the case of the previous government, it appears these tensions were less of an issue - possibly because there was little overt sign of efforts to balance both sides of that equation. National also oversaw significant cuts to the Department of Conservation's operations budget.

The degradation of our water ways and of town drinking water supplies in the past decade has been particularly shameful, damaging our health and our overseas reputation.

Many environmental advocates warned of the approaching problems but were mostly ignored by the then government, which had its eyes firmly fixed on large-scale irrigation projects and the dairying bonanza.

A recent Colmar Brunton poll shows anxieties about what we are doing to our environment are spreading beyond people with what could be called traditional ''green sympathies''.

Of the 1000 people surveyed, 75% said they were either ''very'' or ''extremely'' concerned about river and lake pollution. Compare that with 74% concerned about the state of the health system and the 68% of respondents worrying about child poverty.

Fish and Game has blamed the intensification of agriculture, namely dairying, for polluted water ways, and will not be the only group to do so.

However, for the dairy farmers across the country who do care about the environmental effects of nitrates and nutrient leaching and soil compaction, and who have made efforts to reverse them, the previous government's lack of leadership on this issue is another sad outcome, one that has seen enlightened farmers tarred with the same brush as the polluters.

New Zealand has a proud history of ordinary people coming together to protect our unique ecosystems and wilderness against developments that are ill-considered or driven by financial zealotry. The 13-year campaign to stop the raising of the level of Lake Manapouri during the 1960s and early 1970s is still an exemplar of this.

It should not be left to local heroes like Delta line workers, Ida Valley resident Rochelle Drury and Oxford Bird Rescue rehabilitator Scott Bowman to save the little owls, nor to Forest & Bird's Francesca Cunninghame and Mark Hanger to do all the work on rejuvenating the Catlins forest. But for their work we owe them, and others like them, a huge debt of gratitude.



The last decade has been one in which only the right wing was seen as being competent enough to handle the economy and environmental issues. The left wing was unstable with multiple leader changes and challenges. The government was attempting to allow members of the public to take part in some of the responsiblities of sustaining the country. They offered ideas of economic improvement like Mining in national parks and backed off when flatly refused by the locals.

Not just 'locals'. 15.000 people marching through Auckland were too many to ignore.