Conversations on NPA future Directions

Document Purpose

In June NPA Executive Committee, staff and State Counsellors participated in workshops to discuss matters that should be taken into consideration in developing NPA’s future direction. The conversations gave participants an opportunity to reflect on what they saw as future success for NPA in light of the current situation and matters of concern. The workshops also came up with many ideas for how we might achieve that success.

The purpose of this summary document is to reflect those workshops and be an input to further conversations with branches, staff and our new CEO regarding our future direction and the development of our next strategic plan. We expect to have a consultation draft of our next strategic plan available for discussion with State Council in November 2017 with a view to finalising it at the March 2018 State Council meeting.

Current situation where NPA is operating

Society has changed dramatically since NPA was established 60 years ago – increasing population, urbanisation and consumerism. We have rapid changes in technology and lifestyles are more indoor focused. Many people seem insecure outside an urban environment, however, the number of people seeking organised nature experiences such as adventure tourism is on the increase.

National parks are now an accepted as part of society and we sometimes confront the question – Don’t we have enough national parks?  Yet we still don’t have all the ones we would like to see and areas that were protected seem less protected. Alternate conservation structures are emerging with organisations such as Bush Heritage Australia and the Tasmanian Conservation Trust pursuing conservation on private land.

In the 1990s, we were able to have discussions with politicians about conservation. They might not agree, but at least we could have the conversation.  Now we can’t even have the conversation. There seems to be no willingness at federal or state level to discuss or even acknowledge the intrinsic value of public or natural space. Their attention seems purely economic. Governments are not listening to our submissions.  Government is increasingly suspect, democracy is not delivering to public interest, and questions of alternate democratic processes are emerging.

Climate change is reshaping the biodiversity, social and political landscape. It has drawn the focus of press coverage and funding bodies so habitat clearing and the sustainability of ecological processes has diminished attention. Declines in an education focus on ecology has been accompanied by a lack of scientific understanding among our decision makers as well as society in general. There is little tolerance in the media for complex environmental arguments.  However, pretty and iconic species campaigns do remain one feel good way to gain attention

Many new environmental organisations are being established and the focus of many of these and established organisations is climate change. There has been a decline in profile of natural history societies. NPA has been successfully working in alliances with other organisations that align with our values and priorities – e.g. members of the Aboriginal community who saw the need to preserve the red gum forest.  We are active members of the Environmental Liaison Office (ELO), various campaign based partnerships, and the Stand Up for Nature Alliance of environment, wildlife and heritage groups in support of strong biodiversity and native vegetation laws in NSW.

NPA’s impact

NSW is one of the most environmentally diverse areas on earth and we work hard to ensure it remains this way. NPA has played a role in the establishment of many of NSW’s national parks and nature reserves. Today there are 877 protected areas covering 7 million hectares on the land (9% of the state) and 66,000 ha of marine waters (6.5%) of the coast.

Connecting people with nature is one of the most effective means of changing people’s perception, understanding, and enthusiasm for the environment. We have the largest bushwalking group and a very successful citizen science programme. Through our sixteen branches we stay connected with local issues as well as state-wide issues. Our membership and supporter reach is all NSW, we have amazing commitment from volunteers, and our people are deeply connected to the issues and are prepared to take action. Our activities also provide our members with a sense of belonging as part of a community with similar interests.

We are one of the most respected conservation organisations in Australia and have been very successful with our campaigns for example: Red Gum, No Hunting, 25 New Parks resulting in more than 25 new parks, expansion of reserve system in Western NSW, Rainforest campaign, the Coast Campaign to get rid of sand mining, Myall Lakes, Pilliga. It takes about 7 years for a successful campaign and we are very productive in achieving our success with our limited resources.

We also communicate our understanding and educate people in nature and the value of national parks through our Nature NSW magazine, monthly e-newsletters, talks, and social media posts. We provide commentary and advocacy to influence government policy, laws, and protected area plans of management. Informing and educating is part of ensuring the viability of ecological support systems for now and future. It helps to shift the paradigm of how people view the environment.

Issues we are facing

Being heard is increasingly difficult. The government is not listening to advice on nature conservation and we often find antagonism against national parks fostered by people who are interested in making money and having fun in ways that are contrary to conservation. We face competition for money and territory. There are 51,000 charities in Australia. For every new charity, the dollars shift between charities rather than increase the total dollars available for charities. There is a competitive market for environmental messaging. Are we relevant to all demographics and all parts of the political system?  Our relevance increases when there is an issue – such as someone wanting to build a highway through a national park or hunt in national parks. How do we increase and maintain our relevance with a wider audience?

We respect the values of Indigenous Australians but are inconsistent in incorporating this in our work. We have worked with Indigenous groups to achieve common goals e.g. Brigalow Belt, Pilliga, Red Gum forests but our networks and who we interact with does not regularly include an Indigenous aspect.

We are struggling to get enough volunteers to help with our work. We depend on volunteers for leading activities, research, communicating and educating, advocating for nature, administration and actively participating on our management committees. We tend to keep relying on the same people.

Our funding is not keeping pace with our expenses and we need to look closely at whether we are getting the best return from our activities. We also need to look into enhancing our sources of funds and grants.

How we imagine future success

We aim to protect nature and ensure the viability of ecological support systems of NSW for now and in to the future. As a voice for nature we seek a shift the paradigm of how people view the environment – to living with nature not against nature; to value nature for itself as well as for human experience and existence.

Our activities will support this goal through connecting more people with nature and having more people engaging and connecting with our conservation agenda. Our advocacy and education work will continue to be collaborative and to have a high level of expertise.  Our activities program will expand with more geographical spread and with participants proud to be part of NPA. Our members will actively support our goals and have a sense of belonging and shared purpose.

We will need to defend our gains and expand protected areas and connections to make parks resilient with better conservation on private land and fewer species loss. To achieve this, the environmental debate will need to be informed by biodiversity, indigenous understanding, population, consumption and climate considerations. The rationale for protection will be understood with increased public awareness and appreciation of the issues, increased biological literacy and biodiversity integrated with societal values. Management of protected areas will be adequately funded and managed to standards that reflect NPA standards. Conservation principles will be enshrined the world’s best environmental legislation.

This success will be supported by an adequately resourced NPA organisation that thrives and persists for another 60 years, that is well recognised with our work and outcomes understood. We will need to work with a wide range of cooperative and productive relationships and partnerships for the benefit of nature.  We will continue to have an active branch network with increasing membership from diverse backgrounds. We aim for our people to thrive and be happy, productive, recognised and proud to be part of NPA.

Of course, the ultimate success would be to no longer be needed.

Strategic options for consideration  

Our Future Directions conversations have surfaced a broad range of options for future action.  At this stage, they are very much a mix of activities underway and ideas for consideration. They need more reflection and analysis as part of our strategy process. The ideas include:

Strategy: develop our comparative advantage and consider where our focus should be – does it include cultural heritage, marine and land? How do we advocate regarding climate change adaptation? Develop a clearer distinctive brand for better recognition, promote ourselves more and develop supporting platforms.

Conservation and Campaigns: Choose our campaigns strategically – e.g., Stand Up for Royal National Park, Forest Policy campaign, Fix Our Parks campaign to address the decline in conservation spending on national parks. Develop our ecological thought leadership and compile a data base of national parks, reserves and forest values and consider how to get others to understand and share in this value – value being is a broad term with multiple perspectives that include ecological, cultural and intrinsic aspects.  

Activities: Expand and enhance our activities as a lever for conservation objectives and look to collaborate with additional organisations such as museum and botanic gardens to raise the profile and reach out to diverse groups

Membership and supporters: Relook at membership categories and possibly expand categories of membership. Have an ongoing respectful conversation with the people we want as active participants in the organisation – make it easy, make it relevant, make it fun, use multi media. Work out the best ways to mobilise our membership to take action in ways that work for them.

Political: Continue to lobby and support for NPWS. Understand why our political influence is diminishing. Do we need a new model of political engagement? Review alternate models to see what we can learn. Perhaps lobby for creation of an independent ombudsman for nature in NSW.

Networks: Bring partners and collaborators to the table, and develop relationships across the state, Australia and internationally. Develop improved rapport and coordination with Aboriginal communities. Find patrons, build and use relationships with key decision makers. Revive and refresh our connections with the teachers’ federation and the education sector as a conduit to enhanced education from primary to tertiary

Financial: Continue to enhance our fundraising capacity based on good market research.