The Invisible Challenges of Urban Ecological Restoration Projects

A keen, engaged community. A desire to restore their natural environment. All of the components needed to deliver lasting and meaningful ecological and social outcomes?

We know that cities provide important biological, cultural and social values and function, despite their highly urbanised nature. They are a home we share with a wide variety of plants and animals. There is a growing shift of community expectation, connection and action towards the restoration and enhancement of urban ecology to balance the impacts of past development and future growth.

Community groups and stakeholders provide a key conduit to a wider-pool of community resource and knowledge and can bring those additional benefits only gained by community-based projects where learning is enabled, knowledge is shared, and a community spirit and connection is grown.

However, a lack of planning, coordination or on-going focus can lead to a loss of outcome or support.

At the New Zealand Recreational Association Conference in 2018, our then Senior Ecologist Tony Payne presented a case study for Senior Planner Simon Karl's presentation, on the Orewa Estuary Te Ara Tahuna Community Restoration Plan. The plan was delivered for, and with the community, supported by the Auckland Council Biodiversity Team, Hibiscus and Bays Local Board and Forest and Bird.

From conception, the Plan was intended to develop lasting interactions between community groups and provide an easy to understand, and easy to implement, means of enhancing the 12km coastal margin surrounding the Orewa Estuary.

At our presentation, we discussed our approach towards community liaison, delving into the ecological and social context of the area, and how we developed the plan, so the community could understand what ecological restoration and monitoring activities were needed, and importantly, their role in delivering them.

Ultimately, the Plan reflected the local community’s interests, providing information, advice and the tools needed to deliver matauranga maori, animal pest control, environmental weed control, restoration planting, bird monitoring and mangrove management.

Drawing on recent project examples at the time, Tony and Simon explored several pitfalls and challenges associated with riparian ecological restoration works around our cities and discussed how these could be avoided or managed so that communities could continue to work together to achieve great things.