Q&A: Million Metres Streams Project Manager: Georgina Hart

1 December 2015

SBN’s newest team member Georgina Hart is striving to plant one million metres of streams to restore the health of our waterways. With an innovative crowdfunding web-platform and a dedicated team she is helping drive stream restoration across NZ. 

In this Q&A Georgina talks about her inspiration for joining the Million Metres Streams Project and how to drive engagement for environmental solutions that can seem a bit out of sight and out of mind for many urban New Zealanders. 

What’s your background leading up to joining Million Metres?  

I’ve come from a background working in environmental sciences.  I spent four years working on integrating ecosystem services into decision making amongst other things, with Landcare Research. Through that work I learnt a lot about ecosystems and human interactions with and impacts upon those systems, as well as all the benefits that ecosystems provide to people every day.  Trees are fundamental to those systems and underpin the provision of benefits to people – things such as clean water, air and amenable climate.  

Why is planting our waterways important for New Zealand? 

When you look at the international data on what our key issues are environmentally there are three things that pop out: 

1) Climate change 

2) Nutrient pollution

3) Access to water: access to clean water, power over water, privatisation of water, all of those things.

So in terms of how we talk about environmental issues globally, water is right up there.

Water issues have also emerged as one of the top environmental issues in New Zealand in recent years, both in terms of policy and public debate. The Sustainable Business Network (SBN) recognised this when developing the Million Metres Streams Project as an innovative way to contribute at a large scale to the national challenge of cleaning up our waterways. And I am passionate about enabling the vision set out by Million Metres to engage New Zealand’s public in tangible, solutions-focussed action that will result of healthier waterways and healthier people and communities – that’s Million Metres is all about.

When you dig down into what is happening and what state our waterways are in you find some pretty dire statistics. For example, 74 per cent of native freshwater species are threatened in New Zealand. What that means is that nearly three quarters of the native species that live in our streams and rivers, and have done for millions of years, are threatened with extinction. How is that even possible?

We have deforested and established pastoral agriculture in New Zealand over more than 150 years and the land use change associated with this has had astounding impacts on our native ecosystems – we are facing critical threats to freshwater biodiversity and water quality, in part because we have removed vegetation from the land, and now also as we increase the fertiliser and other inputs to increase farming intensity.

You’ve been with Million Metres for a couple of months now, what drew you to it? 

Million Metres is visionary and inspirational and has a huge target of fundraising to plant one million metres of streams (that’s 1000 kilometres!) around New Zealand. The outcomes of planting are improvements for water quality, biodiversity and communities, as well as opportunities for economic development. It’s a project on the positive, public-facing side of conservation, and personally it’s an incredible opportunity to make a difference that I feel privileged to be part of. 

How does Million Metres work with businesses and community groups to plant waterways?  

Million Metres connects a whole lot of different parties or groups to work collaboratively on a project. There are usually four key players in each stream planting project listed on Million Metres: community groups doing the planting, Million Metres supporting crowdfunding to pay for planting projects, ‘field partners’, and the donors who support the projects. Field partners are experts in stream planting the Million Metres works with to ensure credibility and longevity of planting projects (these are usually regional councils or NGOs)  Crowdfunding for a stream planting project brings together local schools, local community groups, local businesses and the wider public to support cleaning up our waterways . 

People come to us because they want to restore the mauri (life force) of their waterway. People living close by a waterway in New Zealand for a long time may have seen the waterway change a lot, which often means the loss of an important place for food collection and recreation. And the development of a polluted site no longer safe for human contact. This is a huge motivator for people to do something about the state of their local waterway!

Outside of the immediate community, what’s the biggest challenge with getting people to engage with streams when it can be very much out of sight out of mind? 

Understanding the scale and subsequent costs of the planting that are needed nationally is really important to understanding why we believe crowdfunding is needed along with all of the already existing funds that support stream planting. We don’t want to replace existing funding mechanisms for stream planting, we want to add to them to enable more planting to happen faster, all over the country.

Driving much wider engagement is definitely a challenge and we’ll be working on this as we develop our communications going forward. We’re investigating how to engage urban New Zealand in solving the water challenges we face. If you look at what’s happening, there are groups already working in this space all over the country – Million Metres is all about supporting those great groups to do more, faster by engaging more people in the solution through crowdfunding.

People donate through a crowdfunding model but Million Metres varies slightly to what’s traditionally used. Can you tell me about it? 

We’re all about innovating new ways for conservation crowdfunding and breaking through barriers to fundraising for conservation in New Zealand. This means that with the crowdfunding platform we’ve developed, projects don’t have to reach their target to get the funds they have raised.  As a project you receive whatever you have managed to fundraise because stream planting (of a smaller scale) can still go ahead. We encourage projects to come back again and again to keep crowdfunding to plant streams in the same catchment, and we have many donors who like this because they want to donate to the planting of a catchment year after year and keep updated with how planting is affecting water quality in that catchment over time.

Another thing we’ve done is get rid of the gift component. On a lot of sites once you make a pledge and that pledge goes through you get a gift (usually equivalent to the amount that you pledged). We believe people donate because they care about a project, not because they want a gift back. So on the Million Metres crowdfunding platform there is no gift component.  

What we do for all donors is update them regularly on how Million Metres and the planting projects are going.  We hope to be able to introduce field days and site visits so anyone can see the impact of all the stream planting being supported by Million Metres.

The riparian edge is based on best practice guidance – so based on how wide your riparian strip is – whether it’s one metre beside the stream or 20 metres from the stream we plant only after having consulted expert advice through our field partners, who are usually councils.  We work with project partners to ensure that the field plan is specified to that area, planting the right trees at the right width to get the environmental impact that we want. 

To donate to the Million Metres Streams Project or become a project partner visit MillionMetres.org.nz or email georgina@sustainable.org.nz to find out more about the project and how your business can be involved with saving our waterways.