June 17, 2024

Your Quick Guide to the proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity – Forest & Bird

Why do we need a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB)?

Rock wren standing proudly on a rock

Tuke | New Zealand rock wren (Photo: Grant Maslowski)

The 2018 State of the Environment report identified we had over 4000 plants and animals in New Zealand at risk of extinction. And despite some doing better under intensive management, many are still quietly slipping away. Our approach needs to change.

The Resource Management Act was introduced in 1991 to help arrest the decline across the country – but again, we are still losing many of our precious places despite the legislation. Between 1990 and 2008, 70,200 ha of native grassland was converted to pasture in the inland South Island alone. The West Coast region had the largest clearance of native forest anywhere in the country from 1996-2012, of over 5000 hectares. In Southland, 90 per cent of wetlands have been cleared and drained. An astonishing 3452 ha of that clearance has happened since 1990.

We simply can’t continue and think “she’ll be right”, cos “she ain’t”. Our native wildlife and wild places need us to step up.

Ready to step up? Make a submission supporting better protection for native wildlife.

Nature knows no borders. The kererū doesn’t distinguish between your backyard or the Council reserve. The night flying bat doesn’t know whether the matai its roosting in during the day is on your farm, or in a national park.

The current system provides a very general approach, and Councils have interpreted the rules and policies very differently leading to a lot of unequal decisions, unfair expectations, and long and litigious battles.

Bats don’t know whether the matai they’re roosting in is on your farm, or in a national park. (Photo by Colin O’Donnell/DOC).

This National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) is long overdue. It will provide national consistency with the criteria used, it will provide certainty for landowners and conservationists alike, it will help guide Councils to better support their communities. But most of all it will help stop the slide towards extinction for our native plants and animals, and the homes in which they live.

What existed before the proposed NPSIB and how will this improve things?

The overarching legislation, the Resource Management Act, was passed in 1991. It already requires that significant natural areas are protected, regardless of whether they are on public or private land. That requirement hasn’t changed. What will change is that up until now each Council applied the law differently, and used different criteria depending on the advice they received. Many Councils have identified SNAs but have not mapped them nor given clarity about what can or can’t be done in them. Typically it resulted in employing costly experts and lawyers to argue it out, in every district or region around the country. The proposed NPSIB will standardise the criteria and policies that apply, ensuring equity and reducing expensive consenting costs.

Many Councils also had less than ideal processes for identifying SNAs, such as using aerial photographs and then telling landowners by mail that their property contained an SNA. It is not surprising that this approach got people’s backs up. The NPSIB contains fairer and more respectful processes based on evidence of what has worked best around New Zealand.

What will the NPSIB do?

Stopping the loss won’t be easy, and it requires everyone to play their part – from conservationist to landowner, from politician to developer. This Policy is one way that will help guide that change. It is a multi-pronged approach:

  • providing guidance to councils and communities on what they need to do to
  • requiring mapping of “significant natural areas” (SNAs) of native vegetation or habitat on all land, regardless of tenure, and providing a fair and respectful process for how that mapping should happen
  • setting out policies that provide clear expectations around how effects on SNAs should be managed
  • requiring, for the first time, that councils think about where highly mobile animals like kea, kākā and bats are living and manage people’s actions to make sure those animals are not inadvertently wiped out
  • requiring regional coordination and strategies that build on the existing good conservation work happening in communities
  • employing methods such as better support and resourcing for landowners to help protect their special places
  • providing for greater engagement with iwi and recognition and acknowledgement of iwi’s close connection to their lands and waters.

The NPSIB will give clarity and certainty, and save time and money. Make a submission to support it.

What does it mean if I have an area designated as an SNA (significant natural area)?

If you have an SNA on your property, you have probably either looked after it already, or the way in which you have managed your land has protected it, either intentionally or unintentionally. The most important thing to recognise is that you have something special on your land that is worth protecting. Well done, and thank you. Without the thousands of landowners across the country who have done this, we would have very little – if any – important places left.

Up until the NPSIB, there has been no consistency about how the rules applied to your land – or whether what happened in your Council, was the same as what happened with the Council down the road. What part of your land did they apply to, did you have an SNA area or not? If you were looking to develop the land you often had to employ your own ecologist to determine if it was an SNA – a costly and time consuming exercise.

If you do have an SNA, the policies will apply to help protect the values of the SNA. There are several measures to do this :

  • Avoiding effects that would cause damage to threatened species or the intactness of the SNA
  • Avoiding, remedying, mitigating, offsetting or compensating for any other effects

The sorts of activities that might destroy an SNA are vegetation clearance, e.g. felling trees for subdivision, or burning bush to convert into pasture. Existing practices that have not destroyed the SNA will generally be able to continue, e.g. grazing.

The important thing to remember is that the law says you must already avoid these negative effects now – it’s just that currently there is no clarity or certainty, so it often ends up in legal battles.

The aim of the NPSIB is to give that clarity and certainty, and save time and money. (Photo by Wynston Cooper.)

The aim of the NPSIB is to give that clarity and certainty, and save time and money.

Many Councils are also investing resources into helping protect these areas, so you may get support and funding for protecting your SNA, e.g. fencing, pest and weed control, or advice on restoration.

What if I’ve got an SNA and I’m farming the area? Do I have to change what I do?

In most cases, no. Most existing activities will continue as of right, e.g. if you have regularly cleared an area before, you can likely continue to do so. If you farm the vast landscapes with sheep and beef grazing, you can continue to do that. You’ll be able to maintain farm tracks, and fences.

What you won’t be able to do is anything in the SNA that destroys the values of the SNA, e.g. felling the trees, or burning the tussock lands, or spraying out the special shrubs.

You may have already had to apply for a resource consent for some activities now, so that will be unlikely to change, but the Council should be able to give you clearer guidance without having to employ an external expert.

Private ownership rights

Just like building a house, or driving a car, what we do on the land (regardless of whether we own it, rent it, lease it) is subject to our country’s laws. Private land ownership is not permission to do whatever you like – just as you can’t build a factory on your own land in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. Private ownership gives you rights, but it also gives you responsibilities. One of those is to look after the health and wellbeing of the land, and the plants and animals that make New Zealand special.

Most of the things that are significant in an SNA have been there for many decades – big old trees or birds or other animals that have used the area for roosting or nesting for hundreds – even thousands – of years. Some of these places are all that is left. Most New Zealanders are keen to protect what remains, and as a property owner, you have a special opportunity to do this.

The NPSIB is to ensure greater certainty around what we need to do to protect these places, regardless of land tenure.

Why do we need to protect native habitat on private land when we have so much public conservation land?

Even though we have some fantastic national parks and reserves, a lot of New Zealand’s most vulnerable native plants and animals are found on private land. For example, many of our lowland forests are not on conservation land, and they are precious because we have already felled most of them for our towns, industries and farms. If we only protect conservation land, we still stand to lose a whole lot of native habitat.

Will this mean that public have access to my land?

There will be no change to existing public access laws. Having an SNA does not provide the public with access to your land.

Does it mean I will have to do weed control? Will the Council force me to manage pests?

Unless it is required under a Regional Pest Management Strategy, the Council cannot require you to do weed or pest control in your SNA. However, by having an area designated as an SNA, there may be greater opportunities for you to get external funding and support for such things as weed and pest control to help protect the values of your SNA, or assist with fencing where needed.

What do they mean when they say “highly mobile fauna”?

Some threatened species like bats or kākā range widely over our landscapes. Yet with some of them we know very little about where they roost or where they breed. For example, a roost tree with critically endangered bats in it was flagged to be cut down. Luckily for that tiny population they were discovered in time.

By having policies to protect highly mobile fauna, Councils will need to provide the community (including landowners and developers) with information about possible animal species that may be present. It won’t mean every tree is protected, but it might mean that a survey is required before trees in potential bat habitat are felled.

Such information helps to give greater certainty about if and when resource consents are required for any activity. Most importantly it helps us to protect populations of threatened animals from extinction.

Will public conservation land be mapped as SNA?

Forest & Bird believes that given our native plants and animals don’t understand human boundaries, the law should apply equally to conservation land, as it will to private land.

We are very lucky in New Zealand to have so many valuable areas protected as public conservation land. However, many people don’t realise that mining still happens on conservation land around New Zealand, and so do other activities like hydro schemes and tourism operations. The Denniston Mine, the Mōkihinui Dam and the Ruataniwha Dam are all developments that were proposed on conservation land. Even on conservation land rules are needed about what activities can happen where. The NPSIB’s policies should also apply to those activities.

Conservation land held for its natural values has already been assessed in some way as being special, so we suggest that it should automatically be classified as an SNA unless it is shown otherwise.

Private ownership gives you rights, but it also gives you responsibilities. One of those is to look after the health and wellbeing of the land, and the plants and animals that make New Zealand special. (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

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