Gardeners make the difference, and yes science says so

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NOTICE: The NZ Garden Bird Survey starts tomorrow. If you’ve never participated in this annual citizen science project, you really should give it a try this year.

It’s easy and fun to do and only takes an hour of your time at your convenience between June 25 and July 3. Run by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research every year since 2007, taking the survey is a great way to find out more about the birds in your own backyard.

If you participate over a few years, you begin to see what changes, if any, are taking place in the avifauna where you live: having myself planted a lot for the birds, it is encouraging when the number of a species increases from one year to the next.

Taking part in the annual NZ Garden Bird Survey is a great way to find out more about the birds in your own garden.

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Taking part in the annual NZ Garden Bird Survey is a great way to find out more about the birds in your own garden.

Additionally, the information you collect helps build a national picture of what is happening with birds in both urban and domestic environments, and since birds are great indicators of environmental change – canaries in the coal mine, you might say – knowing how they go also helps shape a better picture of the current state of biodiversity in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Now normally when someone uses a phrase like ‘the current state of biodiversity in Aotearoa New Zealand’ you brace yourself a bit because whatever they say next tends to be pretty gloomy: sometimes , it feels like every environmental marker we hear about is inexorably trending downward.

The information collected by gardeners helps build a national picture of what is happening with birds in urban environments and home gardens.

Provided / Stuff

The information collected by gardeners helps build a national picture of what is happening with birds in urban environments and home gardens.

So I was very pleased to find that data from previous years from the Garden Bird Survey contains enough positive signs to suggest that actions such as predator control are beginning to have an impact.

So if you’re actively involved in controlling predators in your garden, good luck.

There is not yet a solid national picture of the number of gardeners who practice trapping, but I have edited New Zealand gardener for over a dozen years now, and in that time I have spoken to thousands and thousands of gardeners, both those who have appeared in the magazine and those I meet at garden festivals and garden clubs across the country. And so I’m in a unique position to make a (non-scientific) clarification on how many gardeners are working for a predator-free New Zealand and that is: heaps more than before.

When I started editing the magazine, predator control was almost never mentioned by gardeners, but now many of you keep me updated on your progress in reducing the predator population in your garden. Sometimes people mention that they want to keep rats out of their compost or protect their roses or apples from opossums too, but almost all of them say their main goal is to make their backyard safe for native wildlife, by especially native birds but also geckos and skinks, frogs, bats, wētā and other ground-dwelling invertebrates and more.

My vegetable garden in Auckland.

Jo McCarroll / Stuff

My vegetable garden in Auckland.

“I think we had an idea in New Zealand that there is a kind of border: there is conservation and nature there, and then there are urban areas where New Zealanders live” is how Manaaki Whenua ecologist Dr. Angela Brandt put it when we were talking about the results of the bird survey.

About a third of New Zealand’s total area is legally protected for conservation purposes, she told me, “so it’s only right to prioritize doing really good work in those areas. preservation”.

But maybe we’ve downplayed what we can do in urban areas, she says, especially since that’s where we mainly live (according to the latest census data, more than 85 % of New Zealand population lives in urban areas).

Jo McCarroll.

Lawrence Smith / Stuff

Jo McCarroll.

And since gardens make up a large part of the green space in our urban environments, what we do in our gardens has the potential to make a real difference to overall biodiversity outcomes.

“Also, as populations grow and urban areas expand and things like climate change mean birds can move around differently, there will be more places where birds, wildlife and people cross paths and mingle,” Brandt said. “So how we act where we live makes a difference.

In fact, there are indications in the data that people’s actions could make a difference. It’s not that everything is fine and that we have to stop. But you know, we should probably keep up the good work.

Sign up for the NZ Garden Bird Survey.

Jo McCarroll has been the editor of NZ Gardener since 2010.

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