Three Takeaways from Chatting with Remnant Bush Expert David Norton


This week, our podcast host, Tim Dangen, sat down with emeritus Professor David Norton to talk about remnant bush on farms. They ended up covering a range of useful topics from monitoring biodiversity to carbon credits. This isn’t surprising! For forty-odd years David Norton has worked with farmers and catchment groups to “find win-win outcomes” for biodiversity on a farm. Plus, he is also a professor emeritus at the University of Canterbury and his research focuses on conservation biology and integrated land management. This conversation is chock-full of practical advice for farmers to manage biodiversity.

David Norton, professor emeritus at University of Canterbury and sustainable farming expert

First off, David explained what remnant bush is: “most people are probably thinking about, you know, patches of forest kahikatea, rimu, depending where you are in New Zealand. But we also include regenerating forest in that category. So it could be kānuka and mānuka cut-over forest with pittosporums and mahoe.” 

Our first takeaway from the chat with David is that these blocks of native vegetation on farm are vital for conservation and restoration. One reason, David says, is that “in many parts of New Zealand, there’s very little forest, and there’s virtually no public conservation land. So what remains is on farms, and it’s critically important for that reason.”

Remnant bush can also inform planting and restoration of other areas on farm. “When I'm writing a restoration plan for an area, the first place I'll go is to look at the remnant stands of trees. They give you an indication as to what might be the right species to grow in an area [and] they’re also important as a seed source,” says David. “[And] as we try to regenerate areas, we do plantings, and a lot of seeds and animals are going to come out of those remnant areas and go into these new areas. So it’s a link to the past, but also a link to the future.”

The second key takeaway is that learning about the remnant bush on your land and creating a vision for the future will help guide your decisions. David says that managing remnant bush on farm “will vary with location, it will vary with the size of the bush, it will vary with the history of the bush, and it will depend on where the bush is located in the landscape.” He says that’s why you should take the time to understand the biodiversity that’s on your farm: “until you know what you've got, you're not in a position to then make decisions about how you might look after it.” David says to continually monitor your remnant bush for signs of feral animals, weeds, and degradation, and address those issues with management actions like trapping or fencing.

For longer term thinking, David recommends creating a biodiversity management plan. “Having a vision of where you want to go in 20 or 30 years time, can [help you] start making decisions about what the first steps are to meeting that vision. And in working out those steps, think very carefully about what the opportunities are on your farm, but also what are the factors that might challenge or restrict you being able to do it and build that into your planning.”  A long term plan will help you navigate how best to protect remnant bush, while still leaving some areas for stock shelter and grazing. 

Our final take away from is that market is increasingly asking for clean, green farm products, and farmers in Aotearoa New Zealand have the opportunity to meet that demand. For example, fencing off bush may not provide direct benefit to your farm’s productivity, but David says that “the indirect benefits are massive. The world is increasingly asking us to actually show that we are clean and green. The more that farmers can demonstrate that and can show that they are looking after not only their water, but also after their biodiversity, it's going to be a really important part of our marketing of our farm story.”

To hear more about remnant bush, listen to the full podcast episode with David at this link: The Our Farms, Our Future podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. For more great advice from David Norton about biodiversity and sustainable farming, follow him on Instagram @davidnortonnz.

Discover more blog posts here