The role of semi-managed nature in supporting biodiversity

Hot off the press today is Catherine’s article on satoyama, the semi-managed nature in rural Japan, which has been published in the latest issue of Asian Studies Review. The article is highly topical, because satoyama was a prominent theme in this year’s Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was just held in Nagoya, Japan last month. At the conference, the Japanese government promoted satoyama as the ultimate model of the sustainable use of nature – one that has benefits for both society and biodiversity alike.

This has relevance to the discussion of biodiversity in New Zealand also. In New Zealand, much of our “natural” landscape is highly modified by man, yet still provides important habitat to indigenous biodiversity. Plantation pine forest is a prime example of a wholly modified environment which provides valuable habitat for the endangered kiwi. But many more landscapes lie somewhere in between the indigenous and the human-constructed: regenerating bush remnants or marshy areas within pastoral landscapes are common examples of the latter.

As remnant lowland wetland and forest environments, these landscapes are under-represented in our public conservation estate (the vast proportion of our national park area is made up of montane environments – lowland or coastal forests comprise only a small proportion). Therefore, it is important to preserve these indigenous remnants, while still using these environments “productively” (it could be argued of course that the preservation of biodiversity is a “productive use”).

QEII covenants used to preserve bush remnants on farmland is a prime example of landowners taking the important initiative to do just this. The Department of Conservation, local and regional councils, and organisations such as Landcare Trust also work with landowners to identify indigenous vegetation or habitats on their land and support them to protect these areas from further degradation, through fencing, pest control, covenants and other means. There is also growing awareness that by preserving indigenous ecosystems, farmers and others that make a living from the land benefit from so-called ecosystem services, which in turn enhance the productivity of the surrounding land. (The soil-stabilising and water retention/cycling function of bush, and the water filtering and regulating function of wetlands are examples of “ecosystem services”.)

As a number of stories on this website show, there are many examples of ordinary people taking important steps to protect or enhance indigenous nature on their land, so that one day, our children or grandchildren may once again wake up to the “dawn chorus” on the lowland plains of New Zealand.

Photo top: A satoyama landscape surrounding a village in Kumano, Japan. Photo: Winifred Bird. Not to be reproduced without the copyright owner’s permission. Above right: a kiwi on a night-time fossick for grubs and insects in a plantation pine forest. It is thought that kiwis may in fact reach higher densities in pine forest than in native bush due to the abundance of slugs, grubs, worms and insects under the thick pine needle layer. Photo: Rogan Colbourne. Bottom centre: a bush remnant on a farm south of Waikanae. The land-owners have placed convenants on two areas of regenerating bush on their land. As more people choose to do this, an “ecological corridor” will eventually be established between the Tararua Ranges to the east, and Kapiti Island Nature Reserve to the west (Photo: C. Knight).

See also: Preserving a lowland forest survivor on the volcanic plateau; From adversity comes opportunity: the unlikely origins of QEII Trust; Creating our own totara reserve in Pohangina; Japanese satoyama – a model for sustainability?

Further reading: The concept of satoyama and its role in the contemporary discourse on nature conservation in Japan, Asian Studies Review, 34(4), 421 (December 2010). See Publications page for abstract.

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