Wellington is becoming a global leader as we learn to live with nature
Our nation’s capital is being celebrated as ‘an ecological triumph’ (National Geographic January 2018)—Wellington is one of the only cities in the world where the diversity of native birds is increasing. This change has been driven by the establishment of ZEALANDIA 22 years ago, the 225 ha sanctuary for wildlife just 3 km from downtown Wellington.
The city’s transformation has created remarkable social change as people learn to reconnect with New Zealand’s natural environment. Our children now have the chance to encounter unique species such as kākā, tīeke (saddleback) and toutouwai (North Island robin) in their own local green spaces, creating a new normal for New Zealand towns and cities. Conservation is becoming everybody’s business, with ‘Predator Free’ communities coming together to protect the species that were once restricted to off-shore islands and remote parks.
The changes that have occurred in Wellington provide incredible opportunities for learning and discovery that no other city can rival. ZEALANDIA is now establishing the Centre for People and Nature to learn as much as possible from the transformation, and to generate the knowledge that Wellington, New Zealand and the world needs to create a truly sustainable and nature-rich future.
The ZEALANDIA Centre for People and Nature will be a vehicle to discover what living in a nature-rich city means for the economy, people’s health and wellbeing, and conservation outcomes. The Centre will provide an umbrella for collaborative efforts in research, community outreach, and education.
The establishment of the Centre for People and Nature comes on the back of new discoveries that tell us nature is not an optional extra, but essential for healthy, happy, and prosperous lives. Studies led by ZEALANDIA’s researchers have already shown that spending time in nature can significantly reduce levels of high blood pressure, depression and stress, and can make communities feel more connected. There are also many other measurable benefits, from enhanced cognition in our children to better quality water flowing through our streams and into the ocean. However, there are still many questions that need to be tackled: What ‘dose’ of nature is enough? What does this mean for public health or our economy?
New Zealand also needs new models for tackling the multi-stakeholder and multi-user challenges that we are experiencing with our rivers and lakes across the country. ZEALANDIA believes these types of problems can only be solved through collaborative efforts supported by interdisciplinary research. The Centre for People and Nature is demonstrating how this kind of model can work with the new Sanctuary to Sea project, which aims to create a healthy, functioning freshwater ecosystem in the Kaiwharawhara catchment. Wellington’s ambitious but collaborative spirit is uniquely suited to demonstrating just what can be achieved in our urban landscapes when we work together.
Despite the incredible changes in Wellington biodiversity, we can’t stop learning and striving for more. ZEALANDIA’s Centre for People and Nature will be tackling the challenge of equipping New Zealand’s next generation with the tools, knowledge and experience they need to pursue a nature-rich future. The emerging focus of ZEALANDIA’s programmes is in looking ‘beyond the fence’, to pioneer the development of knowledge that will help connect people with nature and empower them to take action, whether for their own wellbeing or in shared community projects. This impact is being multiplied through connecting with parents, teachers, and other adults with the knowledge they need to foster the kaitiaki (guardians) of tomorrow.
It is through fostering our own connection with nature, and that of the next generation, that we can perhaps have our greatest impact.