Check, Clean and Dry slows pest

July 6, 2011

A novel marketing approach has helped to engage people in a campaign to slow down the spread of a major waterway pest.

Didymo is a microscopic freshwater alga that cannot be seen by the human eye in its early stages. This means people who move between fresh waterways can easily spread it without realising.

The pest was first detected in New Zealand in 2004, and a key response by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was the development of a social marketing behaviour change programme – an approach more often seen in the health sector at that time.

MAF’s challenge was to change the behaviour of freshwater users and get them all to take personal responsibility for reducing the risk of didymo spread, says Wendy Billingsley of MAF.

The result was the “Clean, Check, Dry” campaign –one of the first New Zealand examples of a social marketing approach in New Zealand’s environmental sector.

The campaign has helped to limit didymo so far to South Island waterways.

It has won several awards and recently was designated as a best practice case study by the United Kingdom National Social Marketing Agency.

Billingsley, MAF Acting Manager Consumer Education and Marketing, explained the systematic approach underpinning the Check, Clean, Dry campaign in a presentation to the New Zealand Biosecurity Institute’s National Education and Training Seminar in Takapuna on Wednesday [July 6, 2011].

MAF knew it had a real challenge on its hands, she says. “Traditional pest management control strategies would not work for didymo. It had not been eradicated anywhere else in the world and we couldn’t just close off New Zealand rivers, so it made sense to use social marketing as an intervention. MAF needed people to voluntarily adopt aquatic hygiene practices.”

Wendy emphasised to NZBI delegates that the campaign was based on good planning, having a robust evidence base and having a clear idea of what success would look like.

The first stage was identifying the issue or need. When established, didymo clogs up waterways – causing shading, depleting oxygen and undermining the aquatic food chain. It also causes problems for users such as boaties, fishers and irrigators, and poses a threat to New Zealand’s clean, pure branding. All of this can result in economic impacts.

The next step was defining who needed to be communicated with and why, and getting a better understanding of them and how they view the issue. “This included investigating why do they act as they do, what do they know, what their motivators and barriers are. It’s about identifying things that help you make better decisions.”

The highest risk groups were those who moved between waterways at least four or five times a year.

The top four high-risk audiences were identified as fishers, pleasure boaties, kayakers and jet boaters. “Each has their own mindset when it comes to New Zealand fresh waterways and the issue of didymo,” says Wendy.

At this point clear, measurable objectives could be set for the programme – which would be crucial for assessing progress. “The goal is to have all freshwater users check, clean and dry every time and everywhere.”

Voluntary behaviour change relies very much on relationships, Wendy says, and working together to find solutions that are relevant, appropriate and as easy as possible.

From 64% in 2007, the proportion of anglers who always check, clean and dry equipment between waterways has increased to 75%.

The main things that convinced people to make the change were: seeing a poster (51%) or a brochure (48%), a magazine or newspaper article (46%) or word of mouth from friends (39%).

The Clean, Check, Dry programme is now continuing with a broader focus of minimising spread of all aquatic pests, including lagarosiphon in the South Island and hornwort in the North Island.

Biosecurity Month

The New Zealand Biosecurity Institute, of which the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is a member, has designated July as Biosecurity month.

MAF has the lead role in managing the country’s biosecurity, with a strategy of managing risk and providing layers of protection and response.

MAF works at three levels: overseas to stop travellers and importers bringing pests to New Zealand; at the border to identify and eliminate pests that do arrive; and in New Zealand to find, manage or eliminate pests that have established here.


Media contact:
Jackie Bedford
Ph (04) 894 0471 or 029 894 0471


Last Updated: 06 July 2011

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