In the “Annual Report for year ended 30 June 2013

People around the world are now facing the effects of a natural environment under pressure as a result of different generations exploiting nature rather than living in harmony with it. These challenges are becoming more pressing every year.

The degradation and loss of biodiversity and ecosystems - such as rainforests, coral reefs and wetlands -  is causing water shortages, extreme weather events and loss of natural capital such as fish stocks. The impacts of climate change are also becoming more evident.

Even here, in New Zealand, we are experiencing the effects of environmental degradation. For example, issues with the quality of our water and its availability where needed are increasing, and we are losing our topsoil - the platform for our pastoral economy -  to the air and sea at an alarming rate.

Conservation has an important role in addressing these issues. Over millions of years, native plants and animals evolved to form ecosystems that keep nature in check and provide valuable services to people. Our indigenous ecosystems filter water, regulate our climate, minimise flooding, prevent erosion and ensure our soils stay fertile and intact. As we lose species and erode ecosystems, we lose the natural services they provide.

That there is an economic cost to losing these stocks of natural capital is clear. The impacts will be long term and will affect the wellbeing of New Zealanders and the economy.

That is a new context in which to place the core work of the Department of Conservation (DOC). Our work to protect the state of New Zealand's native species and the health of its special places is as much about restoring and protecting New Zealand's natural capital as it is about preserving these species and places for their own intangible worth.

In this light, DOC is undergoing a transformational change in the way it sees and does its work. The change is aimed at engaging all New Zealanders - communities, landowners, local government, iwi and business - in managing nature sustainably. It is not enough for conservation to occur only on the third of New Zealand that is public conservation land; all of New Zealand's lands and waters need to be cared for. To be a sustainable New Zealand, the country needs to be truly clean and green, not just clean and green in a few places.

To reach this point, the people who take the most from nature need to give the most back. For this reason, DOC is focusing in particular on working with business. That focus is not to get business to do the work DOC cannot do because of budget cuts, nor is it a revenue grab. It is to make business face up to the reality that, for generations, it has ignored its impacts on the environment - and the public has had to pick up the cost.

Business has to get to a point where it understands and accounts for the true cost of at least neutralising its impacts on the environment. At DOC, we believe we can help business do that in ways where business can actually benefit from giving back more to nature than it takes. We believe that conservation can be good for business, and business can be good for conservation.

The Department is reorganising its work around this premise that conservation is a contribution to a sustainable pathway for New Zealand's present and future prosperity.

This does not mean DOC is compromising its core conservation work and stewardship of public conservation land. It is testimony to the professionalism, passion and commitment of DOC staff that they have maintained the planned levels of core conservation services through a period of disruptive and controversial change.

As well as creating a more outward-facing structure, we have reviewed our business to improve how we organise, plan and prioritise work to ensure we have maximum impact on conservation outcomes. We are also improving how we measure and monitor this work, to better inform our planning and prioritisation processes and those of our partners.

The Department's change programme is all but complete, and the year ahead signals a period of consolidation under the new business model.

The Department is now purpose-fit to contribute to a future where New Zealanders live in harmony with nature and prosper from a healthy natural environment.

Alastair Morrison
13 September 2013

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