New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2016) 40(3): 279- 288

The current state of community-based environmental monitoring in New Zealand

Review Article
Monica A. Peters 1*
David Hamilton 1
Chris Eames 2
John Innes 3
Norman W. H. Mason 3
  1. School of Science, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. Technology, Environmental, Mathematics and Science Education Research Centre, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  3. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Volunteers engaged in community-based environmental monitoring (CBEM; a form of citizen science) can track changes in species abundance and distribution, measure ecosystem health, and provide data for local, regional and national environmental decision-making. A total of 296 environmental restoration-focused community groups throughout New Zealand responded to an online questionnaire, the objective of which was to investigate the current state of CBEM and contextual factors shaping groups’ monitoring activities. Over one-half of groups reported using photo points and 5-Minute Bird Counts (5MBC), with just over one-third (35%; n=218) able to quantify their restoration project objectives through management outcome monitoring (e.g. 5MBC + predator control). Ecosystem monitoring toolkits specifically designed for community users were not widely used (19%; n=157). Groups managing larger areas (e.g. >8 ha), with medium to high partner support and working on Department of Conservation (DOC) or private land were more likely to be conducting their own monitoring. The number of active members in the group and average age of active members did not significantly influence monitoring activity. ‘Random Forest’ modelling showed that total project area had the strongest independent influence on whether and how groups undertook environmental monitoring. Major challenges for establishing new monitoring programmes were reported as a lack of funding, people (both 45%; n=98), and technical skills (31%). Overall, our results show that significant gains in CBEM could be made by targeting support towards groups managing small areas. The significant positive effect of partner support and constraints imposed by resourcing and technical skills on monitoring activity show that government agencies and science professionals could play a critical role in growing CBEM. Prioritising these collaborative partnerships to design and implement monitoring programmes will maximise the value of monitoring, by meeting groups’ and potentially partners’ information needs.