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BBC Our Frozen Planet showcases innovative NZ Conservation Alliance on global stage

31 Mar 2023

The work of the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance to restore nature in the top of the South Island is attracting international attention, with the release this Friday of a short film by BBC Earth Our Frozen Planet released through its facebook feed which has 17 million viewers.

The film is also available on BBC Earth.

The 12-minute short film tells the story of the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance (The Alliance) as it grows and connects multiple conservation projects across the top of New Zealand’s South Island.

The Alliance’s collaborative model caught the attention of the BBC’s Natural History Unit, and the film is one in a series focusing on accelerating change in response to climate change and biodiversity loss.

The Alliance brings together Te Tauihu (Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman) and Kawatiri (Buller) iwi, Councils and DOC with a shared vision to restore nature. Its work is supported by The Nature Conservancy Aotearoa NZ (TNC NZ), the NZ arm of a global environmental not-for-profit.

“The Alliance brings these groups together with one purpose and one vision, to achieve what no entity can do alone,” explains Co-chair Martin Rodd. “The Alliance covers 3.5 million ha – if we work on it at a landscape scale, I think we can make a massive difference to climate change.”

As New Zealand experiences the impacts of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss, the film explores the Alliance’s vision to restore healthy ecosystems, increase their capacity to absorb carbon and protect against flooding, slips, erosion, biodiversity loss and economic and social hardship. It highlights the ways this work can support economic, cultural and environmental resilience for communities feeling the impacts of climate change.

Outgoing Alliance Co-chair Dave Johnston talks about bringing the Māori world view into play, and how that allows for a different approach.  “It makes you think a little bit differently in terms of how we need to care for and respect Papatūānuku earth mother and Ranginui sky father, and everything in between.”

At the heart of the film are some of the Alliance’s key projects: the iwi-led restoration of an ancient forest and its resident long-tailed bats in the Te Hoiere/Pelorus Catchment; Project Mahitahi — restoring the health of the Maitai/Mahitahi River in Nelson; community predator control by Picton Dawn Chorus; and plans to make Westport more resilient to climate change-related flooding.

Interviews with Alliance leaders, project staff and volunteers capture the sense of ownership and commitment of those who work to restore the whenua/land and awa/rivers, and the acknowledgment of Te Ao Māori, which sees the connection between people, land, freshwater, coastline and ocean as seamless.  They highlight the importance of kotahitanga – working together, at a system and landscape scale to create resilient ecosystems and communities.

Jamie Cleine, Mayor of Buller District, talks about the impacts of four successive flood events in the last few years, and how the Alliance’s restoration projects are giving Buller communities hope. “It is providing tools and actions to help us get through and recover, as well as from an environmental point of view, helping us to adapt to a new normal.

Debs Martin, TNC NZ’s Programme Manager for the Alliance, explains that the ground-level projects across the region are the building blocks for the work ahead. “From working on hundreds of thousands of hectares, we will be able to scale up to millions of hectares.”

And following the publication of the film, Debs says that the Alliance will be expanding into the marine space. “We’ve put the foundations down but the next steps are crucial to making a difference in our region – working from the mountains into the sea, ki uta ki tai.  It’s exciting but also challenging to find the support we need across the region to restore one of the globe’s biodiversity hotspots. The film will really help bring attention to what we are doing and hopefully encourage people to get behind the Alliance.”

Carl McGuinness, Acting Country Director, TNC NZ, says he is delighted to see the work of the Alliance showcased on an international platform.

“The Alliance is one of several projects TNC NZ supports, but we see the model emerging here as a blueprint for collaborative conservation projects elsewhere. The relationship between iwi, land and water is fundamental to the way the Alliance operates, and offers one of the best models we have to move forward in terms of scale, impact and resilience in our environmental restoration work.”

Overall, the film gives hope that, by working together with a more integrated, nature-based approach to conservation, we can shift the dial on environmental and climate-related threats to nature, and look ahead to a safer, biodiversity-rich future.


Caroline Crick
Kotahitanga mō te Taiao
Communications Lead
M: +64 27 5458534