Stream ecosystem health outcomes of providing information to farmers and adoption of best management practices.
Little is known of farmer responses to environmental education, and where practices aimed at improving stream health are adopted, comparisons are generally limited to between-stream comparisons rather than monitoring changes over time. A 2-year study of farmer responses to the provision of information and associated assessment of stream health following voluntary adoption of measures to improve stream health was carried out on 30 deer farms in southern New Zealand. Farmers were allocated to groups that did (n=14) or did not (n=11) receive information about waterway management. An additional five farmers were not involved in the information provision study. Stream health indices from a stream on each farm (n=30 streams) were assessed in March 2001, 2002 and 2003, before and after the voluntary adoption of best management practices (BMPs) aimed at improving stream health (n=7 streams). While some stream health indices responded as expected if BMP information provision influenced stream management, no response was statistically significant. Four information farmers, one no information farmer and two not involved in the information provision study adopted BMPs on streams, including permanent fencing to exclude stock from streams and ongoing management changes such as limiting grazing intensity in deer paddocks with waterways. After BMP adoption in these seven streams, environmental conditions changed in a consistent positive manner, whereas no consistent pattern was observed in streams where BMPs were not adopted. Invertebrate community indices also improved where BMPs were adopted. Synthesis and applications. This 'BACI'-type study evaluated effects of provision of information and voluntary adoption of a range of fairly minor BMPs for stream health. No significant effects were associated with the 'information'-'no information' comparison, but in streams where BMPs were voluntarily adopted, consistent improvements in stream health indices occurred within 2 years. These differences were detected despite our inability to properly control reference stream conditions and using relatively simple field methods. Such positive outcomes soon after implementation of BMPs are encouraging, although longer-term appraisals of BMP adoption are required to assess whether the positive changes observed here would generate significant improvements in stream health.