Pilot Project Summary

Healthy ecosystems with high biodiversity were recognized as essential for sustainable farming. Scientific research and past experiences had shown that supporting native biodiversity could lead to improved farm production. The pilot project aimed to share the existing knowledge to assist farmers in making on-farm decisions. The primary focus was on fostering a science-based mindset and developing the capacity to implement practices that would lead to better biodiversity outcomes while ensuring the economic viability of farms.

The project worked collaboratively with farmers, catchment groups, councils, and other stakeholders to create case studies in various regions. Through this collaboration, resources were co-developed to integrate biodiversity into farm systems thinking and demonstrate the feasibility of implementing these practices on a national scale.

The ultimate goal was to develop and pilot enduring resources and capabilities that would bring about significant shifts in outcomes for native biodiversity within pastoral farm systems.

The core deliverable of the ecologist work was to train three ecologists to collaborate with farmers and develop skills and processes for preparing individual Farm Biodiversity Management plans. This was achieved by working with 40 Silver Fern Farms sheep and beef farms from across Aotearoa New Zealand and developing a biodiversity management plan for each of them. These management plans had many positive outcomes for biodiversity and farming. Moreover, six example biodiversity management plans were derived from this work, and an approach and template for developing management plans for other farms were established.

The team also worked alongside Fonterra’s Sustainable Dairy advisors, supporting the development of nine eLearning modules to disseminate the farm planning approach more widely. Additionally, they played a crucial role in curating useful resources for the farming with biodiversity website.

The project worked towards achieving five key objectives to fulfil the agreed pilot project outcomes:

  1. Incorporated Māori approaches and knowledge throughout the pilot, with a specific focus on explaining Mahinga kai to a pastoral farming audience.
  2. Developed an approach and framework for effective farm biodiversity planning while training three field ecologists to apply win-win outcomes for native biodiversity and farmers.
  3. Created learning modules to upskill advisors, enabling them to facilitate meaningful on-farm changes towards being nature-positive. They could now prioritize actions, guide farmers in taking the next steps, and provide support in working with biodiversity.
  4. Developed, tested, and deployed an approach to share relevant ecology knowledge with farmers and farm advisors. This was accomplished using digital and hard copy media to enhance their skills, motivation, and confidence in working with native biodiversity in a farm environment.
  5. Determined the requirements after the pilot and explored avenues to fund future work through building networks and sharing insights gained from the pilot regarding gaps, challenges, and opportunities.

The project successfully pursued these objectives to meet its pilot project outcomes.


The project ran from October 2021 until June 2023.

Currently, 50% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s land cover is pastoral farming, and pastoral land contains one quarter of all remaining native vegetation, which is known to be in decline.

The project aimed to make it much easier for farmers to integrate existing native biodiversity into their farming systems and protect and enhance the biodiversity already existing on their land. The NZ Landcare Trust led this project with support from Living Water, Silver Fern Farms, and the BioHeritage National Science Challenge/Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho. The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures), administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries, contributed 70 percent of the $1.4 million funding.

The project evolved from Farming and Nature Conservation; a research project supported by the NZ Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. It was also known from the biodiversity assessments on-farm pilot carried out by Living Water on Fonterra farms that the biggest barriers to farmers taking action were limited access to good advice and ecological expertise, as well as the cost of preparing farm biodiversity plans. Building on this information, the project aimed to have expertise and resources easily accessible to farmers and their advisors by 2023.