Community-based approaches for restoring biodiversity in coastal parks

Full Solution
© Shane Orchard

The restoration and protection of biodiversity in coastal parks to address dune degradation can provide solutions to other issues. In New Zealand these include protection against coastal hazards, providing culturally important plant fiber resources, and improving the natural character and amenity values of the coastline. The key to securing the best range of benefits is a place-based and community centred approach that first identifies how parks management can assist local communities.

Last update: 08 Feb 2023
Challenges addressed
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Tsunami/tidal wave
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Social conflict and civil unrest

In New Zealand, and worldwide, there is an urgent need to conserve the biodiversity of coastal dune ecosystems as a consequence of human development patterns. Methods for dune protection and restoration have been developed but community buy-in is essential to securing lasting gains. Climate change will bring serious new challenges for many dune ecosystems and planning ahead is vital for successful outcomes. Spatial planning and the protected area design have key roles to play.

Scale of implementation
Ecosystem services
Indigenous people
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Outreach & communications
Science and research
New Zealand
Summary of the process
Information availability assists community-based approaches in many ways. At the outset, technical information and access to ‘proven techniques’ can help with project design, confidence and buy-in of participants. Having this available in suitable formats is essential. Capturing information on the progress being made is also important to gauge the success of steps taken and enable adaptive approaches to planning and decision making along the way. Restoring biodiversity in coastal parks to address the problem of historical dune degradation provides an example of where native biodiversity can improve wider socio-ecological functions. However the technical information is by itself not sufficient. Awareness raising and other engagement activities are required to help motivate people to take action away from the status quo. Thus the solution must also involve changing the expectations people have for these areas. Documenting some of the tangible outcomes (eg ‘ecosystem services’) can help by demonstrating the value of the ‘solution’ in practice. This information can reinforce the desirability of the actions being taken to help maintain interest in the project or attract new sources of support.
Building Blocks
Community based approach

Community ‘buy-in’ for restoration activities is especially important in the case of dunes since there are many human threats to dune habitats. Encouraging a sense of ownership within not only the local community, but also the wider beach-going community, is the main strategy being used . This can be achieved through awareness-raising with the objective of socialising the vision for the coastal park, which in turn has the potential to reduce management issues. It is also useful to directly canvas the level of support for proposed interventions, ideally as part of the management planning exercise .

Enabling factors
  1. Providing a range of activities to suit different demographics and interest groups. These include different versions of the dune restoration and maintenance activities themselves to suit different ages and abilities (examples include schools, corporate groups, volunteer organisations, and general working bees).
  2. Providing opportunities for groups outside the immediate community to become involved.
  3. Encouraging student and other research into aspects of the project including its effectiveness.
Lesson learned

The availability and enthusiasm of volunteers within the community (both individuals and groups) has been important to the project’s success. Overall, the working hypothesis is that a diversity of ‘buy-in points’ will return the best outcomes in terms of a community-based approach. Effective strategies need to provide participation opportunities to suit different groups within the wider community and also address the sustainability of key volunteer inputs. Ensuring that the main organisers are sufficiently resourced, and taking steps to reduce the likelihood of burn-out are both important. Having a succession strategy is another useful idea, and in practice can be achieved by making room for enthusiastic ‘new blood’ whenever the opportunity arises. This has the added benefit of sharing the workload around, and can be useful if opportunities arise to expand the project, in either scope or scale .

Research on the effectiveness of restoration methods

Research into the effectiveness of restoration methods has proven invaluable for addressing the problem of dune degradation in New Zealand. This information has assisted community-led projects in both the design and implementation of initiatives. Working off a sound knowledge base is important for all restoration projects but especially critical for community-based projects where voluntary inputs are high. This knowledge not only improves the likelihood of success from a restoration ecology stand-point but also improves the degree of confidence among participants in what they are trying to do. Implementation of this building block relies largely on professional input into the problems being addressed. In New Zealand there has been considerable research into the success of methods for the restoration of dune ecosystems using indigenous species. This includes aspects such as methods for seed collection, propagation and re-establishment of dune plant species at various sites, and for effective management of restoration sites with regard to threats such as weeds and physical disturbance. Importantly, these studies have identified techniques that are practical and effective for achieving biodiversity goals .

Enabling factors
  1. Funding for research, pilot projects and trials of potentially useful techniques.
  2. Building in, and supporting monitoring programmes as an integral component of restoration projects. This may assist implementation of those projects and enables others to learn from the results that were obtained and the methods used.
  3. Providing outreach activities and associated information sharing on aspects of project design that may be useful to other groups.
Lesson learned

Learning from the success of previous investments is very useful to decision making to help avoid common mistakes. Examples for dune restoration include trials that have shown high mortalities when attempting to re-establish sand-binding species through direct planting with cuttings, and considerable better results if cuttings are nursery grown beforehand or grown from seed. Other examples include the degree to which herbivore protection can help protect seedlings, and the effectiveness of different methods for reducing human disturbance impacts. Despite the head-start that prior research can provide the decisions are not always easy to make at the local project level, especially where commitment of funds or other resources is required. Taking an adaptive approach can be a useful complementary strategy. For example, where local conditions of the site may not have been extensively researched some trial and error can be a practical way to design and manage a project.

Monitoring of outcomes

Monitoring is primarily used to help avoid repeated mistakes and to enable an adaptive approach to management. This is especially important where local conditions of the site may not have been extensively researched as is the case in our project and common with community-led initiatives. Trial and error can be a practical way to design and manage a project in these situations and regular monitoring is essential to identify undesirable trends sooner rather than later. We have applied monitoring at several scales. We have used targeted monitoring at the small trail scale for example to trial different foredune restoration methods before scaling up. At the whole-site scale monitoring has been very useful to show the level of success against long term objectives, which in turn has helped build support for the project as well as helping management planning going forward. Examples include measuring plant growth, mortality and dune profile changes over time along with records of the inputs required to achieve various results. We also monitor the human dimension, such as the experiences of participants in the project and perspectives on priorities for management.

Enabling factors
  1. Developing and trialling new monitoring techniques, especially for methods that are suitable for a wide range of end-users (eg. in community sector) or where a range of methods is developed to suit different end-users.
  2. Production of guidance materials to help lay people and community groups design and implement robust monitoring programmes. This is especially important within context of monitoring for community-based projects.
  3. Funding for monitoring programmes and analysis/communication of the results.
Lesson learned

We have found that monitoring and the feedback of information to those involved can useful as a motivational factor. The information also has practical utility for securing buy-in from key authorities or sponsors for funding. Recently we have extended monitoring to the human dimension to gauge aspects of the project that are of interest to the participants. This is proving useful with project design and planning. Selection of appropriate metrics for monitoring remains a key concern. Ideally these are not just of academic interest and will represent tangibles sought by stakeholders. To address this we coupled the design of monitoring activities with stakeholder perception surveys to establish key values to monitor from various perspectives. In this way we are using monitoring to help gauge the success of management in terms of stakeholder needs. Although it is not possible to monitor everything of potential interest this is helping to get the best value from monitoring efforts.


Monitoring has shown that restoration techniques are effective in re-establishing coastal dunes in New Zealand. Increased abundance and cover of indigenous dune plant species and the persistence of dune landforms are some of the measures of success. At the species level there are several threatened and at-risk species reliant on dunes. At the ecosystem level both ‘active’ and ‘stabilised’ sand dune systems are priorities for protection due to historical declines. Another feature of many New Zealand dune restoration projects has been a community-based approach. At the management level the focus on community involvement has been facilitated by initiatives such as ‘Coastcare’ projects that provide opportunities for public participation. Positive effects of this approach include increasing the awareness and understanding of dune conservation needs, and direct gains for management through volunteer contributions to restoration work.

  • Local community
  • Wider community
  • Tangata whenua (people of the land) – for cultural and traditional values
  • Future generations
  • Native species
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