The resilient rural backbone


Assoc Prof Tom Wilson

Programme Co-Leader

University of Canterbury


Dr Nick Cradock-Henry

Programme Co-Leader

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research



New Zealand’s rural landscapes and communities are an iconic part of our national identity, a key economic driver – not only through our productive primary industries, but also attracting hundreds of thousands of international visitors annually, and vitalising our social and cultural identity. The Resilient Rural Backbone programme (RNC-Rural) is dedicated to finding innovative solutions for enhancing the resilience of rural New Zealand, to better protect these integral and potentially vulnerable communities and enable them to thrive in the face of natural hazard risks.

The programme is supporting and enabling resilient outcomes for rural New Zealand through development of an integrated framework for assessing resilience to natural hazards across rural value chains, producing tools for resilience-interventions, and building a researcher-stakeholder co-creation team and outreach network as ‘honest brokers’ for policy and practice leadership.


Feature: Kaikōura two years on from the quake



Resilience Solutions for Rural New Zealand

Co-producing and brokering innovative solutions for enhancing the resilience of rural New Zealand.

Project lead: Dr Nick Cradock-Henry

Host: Landcare Research


Multi-level Resilience

Developing and applying an integrated, analytical framework for promoting resilience at multiple scales across rural value chains. The project is working to showcase the economic consequences of resilience initiatives for agri- and tourism businesses under multi, cascading and creeping natural hazard events.

Project lead: Assoc Prof Thomas Wilson

Host: University of Canterbury


Resilience to Wildfire Challenges

Co-developing resilience initiatives for wildfire with communities and integrating rural wildfire hazard risk assessment and resilience initiatives within a multi-hazard environment.

Project lead: Dr Lisa Langer

Host: University of Canterbury


Resilience in Transient Rural Communities

This project, funded through the Challenge’s contestable funding process in 2017, is examining and documenting the response and recovery to Kaikōura-Hurunui earthquake from a community perspective, in order to identify community structures that can help foster greater resilience.

Project lead: Prof David Simmons

Host: Lincoln University


Rural Value Chains

This project, funded through the Challenge’s contestable funding process in 2017, sees several methodologies combine to analyse disruptions in complex networks of interdependent rural value chains and how these networks will react in a natural hazard.

Project lead: Dr Carel Bezuidenhout

Host: Scion

RNZ Feature:  Māori oral histories used for Chathams’ tsunami preparedness

Rural team graduate Kristie-Lee Thomas speaks on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon show about her master’s thesis research, in which she used Māori oral histories alongside archives and literature to uncover previously undocumented insights about past tsunami on the Chatham Islands.

Listen to the podcast >


Key Achievements


Project AF8

A future Alpine Fault earthquake is one of the largest natural hazard risks to New Zealand, likely to affect most of the South Island including disruption to distributed infrastructure networks and iconic rural industries, and isolating rural communities.  Project AF8 is tasked to develop a coordinated response to an Alpine Fault rupture to assist and enhance community resilience across the South Island.  RNC-Rural is working closely with CDEM, lifelines agencies and government stakeholders to a) co-create the latest scientific approaches to estimate the likely impacts to critical lifeline infrastructure, buildings, communities and industries from the initial earthquake and cascading hazards; b) translate and communicate technical science into useful, useable and used products for increasing disaster resilience; and c) actively contribute to CDEM sector and community resilience building initiatives.


Kaikōura EQ event

During the response phase, RNC-Rural provided direct science support across affected communities, lifelines, economics, hazard assessment and then into the recovery. Building on relationships and networks in affected communities, the team has been documenting lessons, tracking the evolution of networks, activtities and initiatives, and exploring the ways in which a rural community recovers. The insights from this work not only with the communities, but also transient populations (tourists, and seasonal workers for example) have the potential to inform preparedness, and resilience-building initiatives elsewhere in NZ. Working with the rūnanga, new understanding and appreciations for iwi roles in recovery have also been developed.


Recent wildfire events throughout NZ have highlighted our vulnerability to these damaging events (e.g. 2017 Port Hills fire). The Wildfire programme is working with two Northland communities on wildfire preparedness, focusing on risk awareness and better understanding Māori perspectives and practices for fire management. The team is also focused on the role of volunteers in fire risk management and response, hoping to be better understand the role of volunteers across the 4Rs (Reduction, readiness, response, recovery, Resilience).


Feature: The rural impact of natural hazards

PhD candidate Tyler Barton is looking at the impacts caused by natural hazards in rural areas and how these affect individuals, businesses, and communities. 

Read more >

Thesis Research Students

Ali Davies (PhD at the University of Canterbury) – Assessment of multi-hazard impacts on regional infrastructure and consequent implications for isolated settlements and their communities (co-funded by EQC).

Tyler Barton (PhD at the University of Canterbury) – Streamlining the Disaster Risk Reduction Decision Making Process: Exploring decision support tools for assessing and evaluating risk and resilience initiatives across rural New Zealand (co-funded by the University of Canterbury).

Ashley Rudkevitch (PhD at Lincoln University) – Establishing a new normal: Community initiatives in rural resilience and post-disaster recovery.

Kristie-lee Thomas (MSc at the University of Canterbury) – Informing and Engender Community-led Action to Reduce Tsunami Impact, Chatham Islands, Aoteroa-New Zealand (co-funded by Nga Tahu Research Centre).

Jess McHale (MSc at the University of Canterbury) – Impact of Kaikoura Earthquake on farms in Hurunui – recovery lessons (co-funded by EQC).

Affiliated with other Resilience Challenge programmes

David Wither (PhD at the University of Otago) – Institutional pressures in agribusiness in New Zealand, specifically looking at how systemic issues impact on the resilience and wellbeing of individuals within the industry (Culture Toolbox).

Kat Hore (PhD at The University of Auckland) – People’s participation in disaster risk reduction (Hazard Toolbox).

Christina Hannah (PhD at the University of Waikato) – Resilience governance pathways (Governance Toolbox).

Damon McKibben (MSc at the University of Canterbury – Assessment of lifeline resilience and adaptation in small towns following Kaikoura EQ (Infrastructure Toolbox).

Mat Darling (PhD at the University of Canterbury) – Modelling transient populations for disaster risk and resilience assessment (Infrastructure Toolbox).


Feature: Student profile

Ali Davies

Alistair is from the UK, where he studied Geography at the University of Cambridge and worked as a flood consultant before moving to New Zealand to pursue his PhD.  Alistair is studying Disaster Risk and Resilience at the University of Canterbury.  Outside of university, you can catch Alistair on stage performing musicals, with credits including “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” and “Wicked”.

Read more >

Key publications

Buelow, F., Cradock-Henry, N. 2018. What you sow is what you reap? (Dis-) Incentives for adaptation intentions in farming. Sustainability (Switzerland). doi:10.3390/su10041133

Fountain, J., Cradock-Henry, N., 2019. The road to recovery: Reimagining Kaikoura after a natural disaster, in: Walters, G., Mair, J. (Eds.), Reputation and Image Recovery for the Tourism Industry. Goodfellow Publishers.

Spector, S., Cradock-Henry, N.A., Beaven, S., Orchiston, C. 2018. Characterising rural resilience in Aotearoa-New Zealand: a systematic review. Regional Environmental Change.

Langer, E. R., Wegner, S. 2018. Wildfire risk awareness, perception and preparedness in the urban fringe in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Public responses to the 2017 Port Hills wildfire. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies.

Bowen KJ, Cradock-Henry NA, Koch F, Patterson, J., Hayha, T., Vogt, J., Barbi, F., 2017. Implementing the “sustainable Development Goals”: Towards Addressing Three Key Governance Challenges—Collective Action, Trade-Offs, and Accountability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 26–27:90–96

Stevenson JR, Becker J, Cradock-Henry N, Johal, S., Johnston, D., Orchiston, C., Seville, E. (2017) Economic and Social Reconnaissance: Kaikōura Earthquake 2016. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering 50:343–351

Beaven S., Wilson T., Johnston L., Johnston D. and Smith R. (2017) Role of Boundary Organization after a Disaster: New Zealand’s Natural Hazards Research Platform and the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence. Natural Hazards Review 18(2): 05016003- 05016003

Davies AJ., Sadashiva V., Aghababaei M., Barnhill D., Costello SB., Fanslow B., Headifen D., Hughes MW., Kotze R., Mackie J. Wilson, T.M., Wotherspoon, L. (2017) Transport infrastructure performance and management in the South Island of New Zealand, during the first 100 days following the 2016 Mw 7.8 “Kaikōura” Earthquake. Bulletin- New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering 50(2): 271-271

McKay M, Fountain J, Cradock-Henry N. In press. Festivals, Social Connectivity and Resilient Rural Communities. In: Mair, J. (ed). Handbook of Festivals. New York: Routledge

Woods RJ., McBride SK., Wotherspoon L., Beaven SJ., Potter SH., Johnston DM., Wilson T.M, Brunsdon D., Grace ES. and Brackley H. (2017) Science to Emergency Management Response: Kaikoura Earthquakes 2016. Bulletin- New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering 50(2): 329-337



Rural Team Collaboration Guidelines


Rural programme details



Rural team information sheet