Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Building whakawhanaungatanga in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty


In Aotearoa, Māori have a deep relationship and spiritual connection with the natural world, including ngā koiora katoa – all livings things in it.

For Māori, elements of ecosystems and their links form the basis of whakapapa (ancestry) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship/management), and are crucial in upholding their taonga, traditions, health and well-being. Over time, the development and intensification of land has resulted in degraded ecosystem services and loss of biodiversity for tangata whenua and iwi.

A six-year collaborative research programme, ‘Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Management’ (BEST), led by Manaaki Whenua, set out to avoid further degradation of New Zealand’s ecosystem services. Their aim was to help land managers make better-informed, smarter natural resource management decisions that preserve options for future resource use and enhance the value derived from New Zealand’s landscapes.

As a part of the BEST programme, researchers undertook two flagship initiatives that used participatory community processes and the concept of ecosystem services to underpin decisions at a catchment/local level. The first, in the Rangitaiki catchment in the Bay of Plenty, looked at the potential impact of land-use intensification on the catchment. The second, in the Mangapiko catchment in the Waikato, used the same conceptual framing to develop an ecological restoration plan for the catchment that considered the various uses, needs and aspirations of the whole community.

During the programme, researchers gathered information from a variety of people connected to or using the land and waterways in the two catchments. They also used existing studies to identify relationships between land cover and ecosystem services, alongside socioeconomic modelling, to understand the impacts of different decisions or options. Local iwi are an integral part of these catchments.

As part of these flagship initiatives researchers worked with tangata whenua to hear about their whakapapa, history and relationship with their catchment, along with aspirations for their awa, repo and whenua. Iwi involvement in the processes and their knowledge was invaluable to the researchers, but also to the community participants during discussions about landuse intensification in the Rangitaiki catchment and the restoration options for the Mangapiko catchment.

“The discussions with tangata whenua were crucial for building whakawhanaungatanga (relationships), exploring issues, and discussing potential scenarios for alternative land uses or for options to restore the landscape,” says Programme Leader Suzie Greenhalgh.

They brought that unique perspective on rongoā (medicines), healing springs/waters, and mahinga kai (food gathering) that others did not have, and their oral history of the catchment gave a greater depth of understanding and appreciation for the surrounding landscape and the interconnections between the land, water, and people of the catchment,” she explains.

“In the Mangapiko catchment, as iwi, hapū and most importantly kaitiaki of their place, they were able articulate what had changed for them and helped identify how restoration efforts could be used to enhance the spiritual and physical health of the catchment,” she adds.

Within the Mangapiko catchment, restoration efforts led by local farmers and the Waikato Regional Council have started that rehabilitation journey. Alternative methods have been tested for willow removal and native planting developed to meet community needs. Wetlands have been protected and reconnected to native remnants, and sediment traps are being used to reduce sediment loss into the stream – all underpinned by the participatory, collaborative strengths of the BEST programme.