Restoring a city’s natural ecosystems

Work on restoring a Hamilton park will provide a model for restoring ecosystems in cities in New Zealand and around the world.

Biodiversity loss has been greatest in or near New Zealand’s cities where development has often resulted in total landscape transformations, but the magnitude of this loss has been recognised only in recent years.

A University of Waikato-led research group is working on a four-year MSI-funded project to determine the best way to restore natural ecosystems in city areas, using the 60ha Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park in Hamilton as a case study.

The modified peat lake and catchment area is New Zealand’s largest inland restoration project, and so far 12ha of former farmland have been replanted with native trees, including kauri, totara and kanuka. Waiwhakareke has already drawn international recognition, and is rated one of Australasia's Highly Commended ecological restoration projects by the Global Restoration Network.

Top ecologist Professor Bruce Clarkson, who heads the research project at the University’s Centre for Biodiversity and Ecology Research, says the park provides a unique opportunity in restoration. “Our role is not to conduct the reconstruction, but to underpin the restoration effort with excellent science.”

The researchers are developing a model to reverse the loss of native plants and wildlife in New Zealand’s urban areas and provide New Zealand’s restoration groups with the best methods to use.

There’s considerable international interest in the Waikato University research which aims to help transform traditional city approaches to managing parks and gardens to one more closely aligned to ecosystem management and sustainable development.

Professor Clarkson has been invited to share his findings at the World Cities Summit in Singapore, and at the University of California Santa Barbara National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.