Navigating by a new Star: Part 2

Navigating by a new Star: Part 2

How does your garden measure up?

Last month we shared the first part of the fascinating story behind a pre-pilot study coming out of Otago – one that seeks to provide New Zealand’s homes with a Gardenstar rating for the biodiversity of their property. This month we continue the interview with Prof. Yolanda van Heezik as she explains the bigger goals of the initiative, and the ways in which you can improve your potential rating.

Researchers have recently assessed 78 properties in Dunedin, Queenstown and Arrowtown against biodiversity standards. The aim of this initial study was to assess the feasibility of applying the biodiversity rating tool to a range of different gardens and the people managing them.

How happy are you with the results from the pre-pilot study, both the quality of data and the quality of gardens?

We were very happy with the results and also with the level of interest from the public – we had no trouble with recruiting people into the study.

We collected data from a wide range of gardens – which was perfect. Some people have amazing gardens and are doing a lot to actively protect and enhance native wildlife, while others are pretty stark.

We also provided garden-specific feedback to study participants and are taking on board comments in response to that feedback, to improve the way that it is presented. The pre-pilot study also identified some parts of the evaluation process that were not very practical. So the next stage is about refining and evolving the study.

Why is it so important to New Zealanders?

There is a large body of evidence supporting the wellbeing benefits of nature in our immediate surroundings. A number of theories have been posed to explain this and various researchers around the world are exploring possible mechanisms.

If nature disappears from these environments (which are the ones we spend the most time in), how can future generations learn to appreciate and value it?

Healthy biodiversity is vital for ecosystem functioning. Ecosystems provide us with many services, even in urban areas, although most people are unaware of them, and the role biodiversity plays in supporting these services.

Independent of benefits to humans, many of our native species are suffering declines. We have the opportunity to play a role in reversing those declines by creating safe living spaces for them in our towns and cities. If nature disappears from these environments (which are the ones we spend the most time in), how can future generations learn to appreciate and value it?

What are a few simple things New Zealanders can do to improve the biodiversity of their garden?

Planting native species is an easy thing to do, and if there is enough room, species that grow large. By large, I mean above knee-height! When planning plantings, remember that it’s great to have species of various sizes, planted in groups. And why not reduce the amount of time spent mowing and tending to lawns by converting this space to grow native shrubs and trees?

There are also a number of simple ways to make the most of your property’s biodiversity strengths. You can reduce the amount of impermeable surface (e.g. paved) when designing paths and driveways and ensure there’s ground cover (leaf litter and fallen wood) on the ground under shrubs. Trap predators (like rats and possums), keep your cat inside if possible, and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Also aim to create additional habitats, such as rock piles for lizards and bug hotels, and support birdlife with sugar water.

What needs to happen from here?

The Endangered Species Foundation is now working with the Ministry for the Environment to explore how we can get Kiwis putting the Gardenstar initiative to best use.

We are also exploring opportunities to incentivise these residents for having high biodiversity ratings, similar to the reduced mortgage rates and operational costs provided by Homestar.

However we’re mindful that Gardenstar needs to be equitable for different kinds of users and properties. So as not to exclude some homeowners the scheme will need to cater for people who can’t afford to buy plants or the gear needed to create wildlife habitats.

So, while there’s still a lot to go, the momentum is there now and we’re looking forward to the next steps from here.