New Zealanders are passionate about community conservation but we are losing our biodiversity at an alarming rate – along with volunteer interest.
“A lot of conservation volunteers get involved because they want to do the cool stuff like putting the plants in the ground or walking in the bush in the weekends to manage the trap lines,” explains Bay Conservation Alliance Chief Executive Michelle Elborn.
“But with that also comes the need for groups to undertake marketing, fundraising, administration, advocacy, volunteer management, dealing with school enquiries and playing a role in education – all those sorts of elements. Without adequate support structures in place, and with an ageing pool of volunteers, it’s hard for many conservation groups to sustain themselves long-term.”
In a bid to fix this problem in the Western Bay of Plenty, Bay Conservation Alliance was established as an incorporated society in 2017. Four well-known groups initially joined (Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust, Maketu Ongatoro Wetland Society, Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust and the Uretara Estuary Managers). A further seven groups are now members of the Alliance which aims to provide shared administrative support services and help each group connect with one another to expand their reach.
“Our aim is to lighten the load on members’ day-to-day operations allowing them to focus on the real groundwork and avoid some replication,” Michelle says.
“Our members represent some of our biodiversity treasures in the Western Bay including rare species of frog, kiwi, kokako, sea and shore birds, skink, weta, fungi and a huge diversity of plant life.
“Our big objective is to see everyone working together to achieve landscape scale nature conservation, which in simple terms means we support the well-being of nature everywhere – our forests, streams, wetlands, harbours, estuaries and coastal areas as well as our own backyards.”
Fundraising is an ongoing issue facing all volunteer organisations. Instead of individual groups applying for funds, the Bay Conservation Alliance applied to BayTrust in late 2019 on behalf of six member groups and themselves with a total of $87,500 approved.
The grant will enable key ongoing operational work of member groups such as pest control, volunteer engagement and management, land and waterway restoration, weed removal and plantings, targeted species management, education and advocacy.
“What’s great about this is these groups didn’t each have to sit and fill out a lengthy application. They could provide the relevant information to me and then I pulled it together into a combined application so from an administration load point of view, the member groups have really benefitted.”
Michelle says the grant will be split between Western Bay Wildlife Trust, Te Whakakaha Trust, ARRC Wildlife Trust, Maketu Ongatoro Wetland Society, Friends of the Blade, Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre and Bay Conservation Alliance.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s almost a game-changer to have the support of BayTrust. It brings credibility to what we do and gives each group funding security around their planning and aspirations for the coming year to increase the value of what they’re delivering.
“For all those groups it’s a critical contribution to actually enabling key pieces of conversation work like pest control. Funding is such a big thing when it comes to conversation and having the tools and resources to do the job well.”
Since joining forces three years ago, Michelle says the Alliance has made a huge difference to its member groups.
“The feedback we’re receiving from members is really positive. Each member has different needs. Some have wanted a lot of support with environmental education. That’s an area that we’ve now taken off their shoulders and developed a coordinated regional approach to nature education.
“Others have wanted help with day-to-day financial management. We’ve created new tools like policy manuals and templates, and we’ve produced a standardised chart of accounts for all groups to operate off if they want to which allows us to do cross-sector reporting. We’re just looking for efficiency gains.”
Michelle describes the Alliance as a “collective voice” and says plans are getting underway for larger landscape projects which will go beyond the current boundaries of member groups.
“For this coming year we’re planning a number of different workshops to help pull member groups together to share, learn and continue working together. Our mission is to support, sustain and grow community-led environmental restoration and nature conservation.”