We know that ‘seeing is believing’, so providing people with the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of projects protecting or rehabilitating habitat for native fish, was a fundamental part of the community engagement approach used by the NFS. Across the NFS’s life, there were a multitude of events, both large and small.
While some events addressed broad themes of native fish and habitat rehabilitation, others focussed on specific issues such as protection of threatened species or the management of particular threats.
There was a strong focus on looking at on-ground rehabilitation works, using sites to demonstrate activities, celebrate achievements and thank stakeholders involved in these projects. Involving stakeholders as part of field days helped to establish them as ‘champions’ in the local community, as well as creating ownership and a sense of pride around achievements. Local champions also share information in ways that make it directly relevant to their community, and we know that people often prefer to hear things from their neighbours or other landholders who live in the same region, rather than from someone outside their locality.
The NFS team initiated specific field days, particularly associated with Demonstration Reach implementation. These included demonstrations of electrofishing and other fish survey and fish tracking techniques, demonstration of fishways in operation and release of stocked fish. Fish researchers and NFS coordinators would give talks about the key values within demonstration reaches, current threats, the reasons why particular rehabilitation activities were needed, and what monitoring results were showing.
When planning a field day NFS team members took the time to see what else was happening in a region so that they could link in with existing events as much as possible. This proved to be an efficient engagement approach as it placed the NFS within a broader local context (for example, NFS as part of a local agricultural show) and minimised planning effort. It also strengthened relationships with collaborators, whilst reaching a broader and potentially different audience. Key collaborators were the Natural Resource Management Agencies in different parts of the Murray-Darling Basin and NFS team members were often asked to present talks and run activities. This provided great opportunities to promote the broad themes of the NFS, as well as share the findings of particular research projects and Demonstration Reach activities.
Other groups such as Landcare and Waterwatch provided further opportunities for the NFS to reach a broader audience. Activities included tree planting, water quality monitoring, school excursions, fishing club annual general meetings, fishing competitions and Carp musters. The NFS also linked in with flood clean-up activities, providing both technical knowledge and coordination. There was also regular participation in larger events such as National Water Week, World Wetlands Day, Kids Teaching Kids and the Central Murray Environment Festival. The Native Fish Awareness Week activities encompassed a combination of tying in with existing events and initiating specific activities.
During planning and participation in field days, the NFS team would consider the types of audiences, their level of understanding of NFS themes, their particular interests and perspectives. Often, events would include a broad spectrum of participants, and so resources and approaches needed to be relevant and useful to all. Understanding your audience is an essential part of effective engagement. While some prefer to hear about things, others like to see things, and others must interact in some way to absorb information. The NFS team would use many different approaches, as discussed in this section of the website, to account for a variety of learning styles and target audiences.