5 Nov 2015

Environment trust launched for clean rivers

1:54 pm on 5 November 2015

A former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is calling for more private funding for science research as he launches a foundation to support clean rivers and oceans.

Cawthron Institute

Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Morgan Williams told Nine to Noon that environmental research is under threat due to funding cuts.

He said more private funding for research would give scientists stability at a time of job cuts at Agresearch and the loss of funding by organisations such as the Allan Wilson Centre, which has been forced to close.

"Stability of funding equals ability to do long-term particularly complex ecological research," he said.

Dr Williams said funding for public good environmental research had waxed and waned with shifting government priorities and fluctuating interest from private companies.

With help from private donations, Dr Williams is heading a new charitable foundation associated with Nelson's Cawthron Institute to help solve the country's main environmental challenges.

The Cawthron Foundation will raise donations, bequests, and endowments towards public-good science, as well as scholarships for emerging scientists.

Water clean enough to swim in

The foundation aims to work on improving the quality of New Zealand's fresh water to ensure future generations can swim in, and fish and drink from it.

Last month's state of the environment report, Environment Aotearoa 2015, identified declining water quality as one of the areas of greatest concern.

Dr Williams said it was important to be able to nurture good people.

"One of the really critical things is stability of core funding, so that you reduce the transaction costs of chasing contestable money all the time, and you in fact create a very stable and well-supported innovative research environment."

He said there was a rising interest from the public towards bequests and philanthropy in the environmental and social spheres.

Former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Morgan Williams.

Ecologist and agricultural scientist Morgan Williams. Photo: Wikicommons

"As you've got the baby boomers coming through to their third phase of life - what do you do to secure the future for your grandkids?

"We, as baby boomers, had an amazing run in New Zealand in terms of quality of everything in terms of health and education and the world that we actually lived in and swam in - I mean that literally, in the rivers."

Dr Williams said the foundation would start by giving two scholarships next year to support science students: the Theodore Rigg and Kathleen Curtis (Lady Rigg) scholarships.

The AgResearch team behind the discovery of methanogen inhibitors (from left to right): Ron Ronimus, Stefan Muetzel and Peter Janssen. In the background are several respiration chambers the team uses to monitor methane emissions from sheep.

AgResearch scientists Ron Ronimus, Stefan Muetzel and Peter Janssen pose in front of respiration chambers used to monitor methane emissions from sheep. Photo: RNZ / Veronika Meduna