Sunday, 8 July 2018

Joining the dots

We swarm around the pieces of paper the on the walls of meeting room, putting on our dots. There are maybe 35 of us, people from Landcare groups, Friends of groups, Melbourne Water and Shire staff. We all care for the environment, as an aspiration and as a practice. We are the top of the Macedon Regional Park, in the cafĂ© by the Cross, to review progress on the Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s Biodiversity Strategy.

We had started with the country itself, where we came from, then, projected on a wall, a map showing connectivity in biodiversity of the Shire. Green spreads out from larger cores of land, north and south, east and west, like filaments of nerve cells. We see where the connections flag and thin to less than 150 metre gaps between large trees. That’s the distance at which woodland birds will not traverse open country, for fear of predators (Sophie Bickford from the Central Victorian Biolinks Alliance thinks 80-100m is a truer limit).

This map is quite a lot to take in! I could happily have spent half an hour with a few people talking about this map, but we are onto the next task, then the next, until we have in front of us A3 sheets with the possible lines of action. 

They’re all terrific things to do, and they are our ideas, drawn together by Krista, who has the job of pulling the Biodiversity Strategy together. Educating landholders about land management. Ramping up requirements on new developments to plan for the environment. Ensuring that zoning and planning provisions lead to protection of native vegetation. Educating staff and Councillors themselves so they understand the challenges we face in Macedon Ranges. Giving people living in our towns and children in schools ways to connect to nature and understand the bush. Supporting community environment groups.

We’ve done some assessment of these actions, and now it’s time to prioritise. We each have six gold dots, to represent the time and money we have to get things done. Where should these go? A scrum forms along the wall as we scan the options and make our choices. We’re each trying to hold the whole system in mind and sense what will make most difference. In 15 minutes it’s done. We break off into twos and threes, in conversation over muffins and hot drinks.

But the next day I feel unfinished. We didn’t talk about why we each distributed our dots as we did. We each had a hold of the big picture, but we’re didn’t talk about strategy – that is, how a bit of this and a bit of that could combine to change our situation in the Shire. We didn’t join the dots. Instead we lined up the solutions in a row, and targeted each of the players individually - environment groups, townies, blockies, farmers, developers, Council.

But in natural resource management, what makes the difference will be how those people interact. It’s the same as with biodiversity, but here it’s not bugs and soil and plants, but us humans in a social system. As with ecosystems, the relationships are where the life of the system exists. We all know this, but when we put on the dots and rank one item against another, our systems thinking stays silent.

For the Biodiversity Strategy, the devil will be in the details of the money and staff time the Shire budgets for these actions, but also in the way actions will work together to shift existing relationships. This needs discussion. When you’ve been building an addition to your house, or pulling out your summer garden, or putting in new drainage, you lean on the shovel and looking at what you’ve done, and let it sink in. You think about what’s next.

We need to do this locally, in each part of the Shire. The forces affecting biodiversity come together in unique ways in each part of the Shire, and the Biodiversity Strategy will only generate strategic action if we find a way to keep talking locally and join the dots.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

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