Let me tell you a story about a farmer who planted 1200 native plants on his land, which cost him a large amount of money, and even more time. The farmer felt good about his riparian planting actions, giving te Taiao a hand in getting healthier. Until the neighbour’s cows broke in to the planted area…. I don’t need to tell you the rest of the story.
But I think I should, because the story doesn’t end here.
Although the cows ‘diminished’ the newly planted trees and shrubs, the somewhat guilty-feeling neighbour and others in the catchment community got together to repair the fence, and replant the whole lot.
They decided to share this story with me, because it is a real story that gives us hope and tells us unforeseen bad things can happen, but as a community we can get together and rebuild.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, catchment communities have been actively working to restore the health of their rivers, in some cases for many decades. Their knowledge offers a valuable resource that could motivate and empower other groups to do the same, making river restoration more effective at large scales.
My research in science communication (with the help of my co-authors and participants) conceptualised and defined how knowledge sharing through storytelling may be a powerful tool to report on restoration progress, and lessons learnt along the way.
Knowledge conveyed through stories aids understanding of complex issues (such as freshwater ecosystem restoration), which is necessary for informed decision-making.
If these stories are then told by the people, or the collectives, that do the action on the ground, story context and language become even more relatable to other catchment communities. This allows common identity to be built through bridging different ways of knowing among people who are already working together to restore their rivers.
Collective storytelling is a unique form of knowledge-sharing that allows catchment groups to carefully tailor their messages to contexts specific to their group and catchment such as their social settings (e.g., time since group establishment, size and diversity of group, levels of engagement within group), geographical location (e.g., high, or low rainfall area) or their political situation (e.g., functioning relationship with regional authorities).
Over the last three years, our research team heard a lot of restoration stories. Each one was unique, yet three distinct elements were found in each story.
“Exciting to be farming and feeling the pain, living and breathing what farming challenges there are at the moment, but also full of optimism for the [catchment] groups and what they’re looking to achieve. But we need to get our story out there.”Catchment group member
As part of our research, we have tested and developed a ‘Catchment Journey’ template freely available on the Our Land and Water website. We hope this template will be useful for catchment groups to define (or refine) their restoration journey.
We encourage you to share your Journey widely on the ‘story tab’ on the National Register of Land Management Actions.
I drank lots of cups of tea and ate my fair share of biscuits with catchment groups over the last three years. Everything about river restoration seems so much more achievable with the right food and the right people. Stories about freshwater catchment restoration actions flowed more freely, and the catchment champions (that kindly took hours of their incredibly busy schedules to meet with me) were more open to talking about some of the restoration hardships they had experienced. If those stories are then shared more widely, others in the catchment can learn from them and feel motivated to do the same, making a positive difference for the future.