In 2000/2001 a dedicated 'conservation awareness' fund of $2.5 million provided to DOC became a catalyst for change in the way our organisation worked with communities: Its focus was on greater face-to-face connections, innovation and models of partnership. It seeded the growth of hundreds of new awareness raising, education and community involvement projects around the country.
Bat houses were placed in Hamilton City supported by DOC's Waikato-based community conservation contestable fund
"It was a really positive time" says Jan Simmons national volunteering advisor Hamilton. "It was an affirmation that working with communities was an important component of DOC's work. From that time, there was a greater awareness of the role that communities could play in achieving conservation outcomes. It enabled us to provide greater support for that effort."
Each of the conservancies at the time was given around $80,000 to support new community involvement with rural and urban neighbours and school communities. The big urban centres were given extra in recognition of the larger populations to work with. The conservancies experimented with different approaches which was all part of the innovation.
Waikato's approach was to set up a small working group from the community who helped provide guidance to DOC on the new initiatives says Jan.
Planting day at Bream Head with the Whangarei Chinese Association and Whangarei Heads Landcare
Image: Anna Lunjevich
"Research revealed that a lot of community work was happening but we realised that a lot more could be achieved with the right resources and support. At the time we didn't have so much of a focus on supporting community work. There was still an element of 'DOC knows best'. We set up lots of workshops to help upskill communities and share ideas and learn what others were doing. We created a DOC hotline for community advice and set up a biodiversity forum working with stakeholders." Both of which still exist today. "We also set up a local community conservation contestable fund that ran for 10 years until the introduction of the national fund for communities.
Urban centres like Auckland focused on establishing pilot programmes with the Chinese and Pacific communities. Wellington initiated a community care model to build awareness of penguins, seals and whales visiting the Capital. The 'Experiencing Marine Reserves' programme was also one of several successful models seeded at that time and is still going strong today.
The new initiatives across DOC were monitored and best practice was identified and promoted by the national office. An example of this was the creation of DOC's first national community partnerships training for staff called 'From Seed to Success' co-written by Michelle Rush and Helen Ritchie. It responded to a growing staff need for more time and capability to work with communities.
A guide for communities was also created as part of this and still exists today on our website.