John Sawyer formally launches Nature Space at Te Papa, 26 April 2012

Image: DOC

Introduction

A strong belief that ecology and community-led restoration work could be digitally connected, led to the creation of Nature Space. Today this national community portal for ecological restoration is expanding steadily with over 600 subscribers.

Nature Space website is a collaborative project between community and government designed to support community restoration efforts and provide a one-stop-shop to access information and resources.

It was formally developed and funded in 2012 by DOC, regional councils, WWF New Zealand, and the QE II National Trust as a way of supporting community conservation effort. But its origins began much earlier, seeded by the growth of community-led restoration in the Wellington Region.

Thorndon’s Patanga Hill restoration coordinator Dinah Priestley explores the Nature Space site at an open day.
Thorndon's Patanga Hill restoration coordinator Dinah Priestley explores the Nature Space site at an open day

Matt Barnett, senior ranger community in Wellington and the late John Sawyer, respected ecologist and former CEO of The National Biodiversity Network, saw a digital opportunity to support this work. "It was a little bit of trail blazing in an attempt to grow conservation" says Matt.

"At that time, there wasn't one hub where a community group could go to for ecological information. You could get bits of information from the DOC website, some from the regional council and some from Forest and Bird. But overall it was hard for people to know who to go to."

Matt had surveyed restoration groups and uncovered an appetite for there to be a community portal for ecological restoration. "We had both seen the NZ Ecological Restoration Network website and saw they had a kernel that was worthwhile building on.

Nature Space website.
New site - A new look for Nature Space website, recently upgraded with a new home page and mobile friendly

"John also championed the broader benefits and wanted it to be a way for groups to capture their data on how many pests they were catching and how much restoration work was being undertaken." says Matt. "John was one person who was bridging the gap between ecology and community. He was very passionate and proactive and vocal in that space. "

There were a number of hurdles at the start explains Matt "We had strong Conservancy backing at the time but it was not as easily understood at national level. We were essentially creating a website that was supported by DOC but had a community voice and ownership." Other challenges included how to get groups to sign up, how to get financial sustainability, getting sponsorship and support from other agencies and growing that support to a national level.

"John also had some clashes with people who didn't see the value of community restoration at the time. John was a very highly respected ecologist but that was only half of what he did. He was a real trail blazer and demonstrated the role of marrying ecology and community work; the idea that we can make gains and we can inspire communities."

Nature Space quickly became a first port of call for community groups in the Wellington Region and the numbers of groups joining up increased rapidly. Matt explains that it worked because community groups were enabled to take ownership of the content and to build what the website looked like and to share their stories, photos and notices.

Today Nature Space has 427 groups registered on site, an e-newsletter that reaches more than 600 subscribers and a revamped mobile friendly website. It's growing steadily through promotion at public events in the North Island says Trevor Stone, volunteer advisor for the lower North Island. There is now an opportunity for growth in the South Island and closer links with the Southland Ecological Restoration Network.

Nature Space is unique in that it is "by community for community" says Trevor. "While DOC provides support by employing an administrator and regional councils also help to fund the running of the site, DOC is careful to maintain the strong community voice and ownership of the site."

The challenge for Nature Space now, adds Trevor, is to "remain viable as an up to date website that is well used by the conservation community and for the community to be able to guide and request new developments and tools."

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