With nowhere else to go, New Zealanders started exploring their own backyards, visiting local beaches and parks and taking holidays around the country.
The pandemic years presented an unlikely opportunity for New Zealanders to take a moment to appreciate all that we have. Collectively, we slowed down and looked around. In doing so, we reaffirmed our connection with nature.
“That connection with nature was felt really strongly when we went into lockdown. – Living near the ocean.”
A deep connection to nature is something all New Zealanders share. We feel immense pride and fortune in having access to an abundance of natural beauty in Aotearoa. Regardless of our differences, we’ve all got one foot in the natural world.
But the pandemic also opened our eyes to the depth of issues facing our natural environment. The video “Papatūānuku is breathing” released by Visit Auckland, highlighted the need for rest and restoration of the land. The pandemic reminded us that with a deep connection to nature comes a deep desire to protect our land, and it’s high time we started acting in more sustainable ways.
Five years ago, in our initial Kiwi Codes research, New Zealanders were frustrated and anxious at the lack of action being taken to protect nature. Today, these feelings still hold, and have been ratcheted up. Our connection to nature is now governed by strong feelings about how and why we need to care for the land. Kiwis are anxious to see that nature is protected for future generations.
For many New Zealanders, nature was the background to childhood. Many of us have nostalgic memories of camping with our families, tramping in the bush, or just spending time at the beach and outdoors.
Older generations of Kiwis feel the younger generation today is not as connected to nature. There are fewer camping trips and more devices, more time spent on screens and less running around outside and enjoying the outdoors.
Interestingly, the same sentiment was apparent in our research five years ago. Previously this made the older generation sad, however in this round the generational divide dialled up feelings of anger that there is a lack of respect and a sense of self-entitlement from the younger generation of Gen Zers. Older New Zealanders are frustrated that rules aren’t being followed, in their eyes.
We have seen from this round of research that sticking to rules is seen as a vital part in ensuring nature is protected.
As we saw with the team of five million, when there are a clear guidelines and a shared objective, we will work collectively as a united front. When it comes to restoring and regenerating nature, there needs to be a clear, single-minded vision that we can rally around as a nation.
One example of this in action was when kauri dieback threatened the Waitākere Ranges. Swift and strict measures were put into place, tracks were closed, and the penalties for ignoring the closures were severe - and it was effective. People got onboard with the measures, understanding the bigger picture at stake.
“I feel passionately about people following rules and guidelines about care of the ecosystem, I see respect as an important element of this relationship with the environment.”
“People are trying to protect and preserve what we have, but we haven’t agreed what we should give up for it or what we could get from being it – it comes back to that one vision.”
In our latest research, we saw feelings of fear and anxiety that not everyone has respect for the whenua. These strong feelings are triggered by a heightened awareness that if we don’t act, we will lose our best asset. There will be no hope for the future, for our children, or for our country’s reputation.
Government, businesses, and individuals have a role to play in ensuring our nature survives for generations to come. There is a sense that thinking collectively, rather than individualistically, is a core element of this. We need people to realise the importance of putting the bigger picture ahead of individual gain, and working together to achieve better outcomes.
One of the most noticeable shifts in the past five years has been the growing awareness of key principles of te ao Māori, including the concept of kaitiakitanga. The understanding, respect, guardianship of our whenua detailed by kaitiakitanga has been acknowledged by non-Māori people.
“When I learnt the concept of kaitiakitanga – it’s something I take with me. It’s very important to look after what we’ve got.”
“Our Māori links have taught non-Māori New Zealanders to respect the environment and life.”
Te Ao Māori has always valued and respected the natural environment, and looking after it is amongst its key tikanga. So now, as we look to better preserve our environment, Te Ao Māori provides a source of guidance.
We have already seen Te Ao Māori principles in action, helping to care for nature with a clear, rules-based approach.
The Mermaid Pools in Northland were placed under rāhui (restricted access) after being degraded by too many visitors. The rāhui was well respected when people saw the signs. People were compliant and followed the rules, understanding the rāhui was necessary for the protection of a natural taonga. We’re willing to make collective sacrifices if it means safeguarding nature for everyone.
New Zealand is beloved for its natural beauty, and New Zealanders understand the importance this beauty plays in attracting visitors and generating revenue. Preserving and protecting our land is in the best interest of the nation, but we are realistic that it is not an overnight job.
Brands as well as individuals are expected to change their behaviour and follow through to make a positive difference. People want to see actions that are realistic and achievable, with clarity and transparency as pillars around any environmental action.
My Food Bag started a Garden-to-Table initiative to help Kiwi kids grow, nurture, harvest, and cook fresh food. It’s a simple initiative to help connect children with the land and show how this can improve their health outcomes.
Meanwhile, Air New Zealand’s commitment to the Tiaki Promise in their safety video actively engages and educates passengers on ways to better look after the natural environment of Aotearoa.
Connection to nature is an enduring cultural code, so initiatives in this space will help to establish these brands as favourites with Kiwis.
These examples demonstrate a deep-seated understanding of what is important to New Zealanders – not on a superficial level. Kiwis see through picture- perfect postcard views of New Zealand and want a clearer acknowledgement that our nature is important, and we all have a part to play in its protection.