Report calls for improved biodiversity

Erosion on Wairoa River. File picture

MORE funding and a coherent strategy are needed to turn around biodiversity decline, a report before Gisborne District Council recommends.

The Biodiversity Incentives Project, presented to the environmental planning and regulations committee, involved interviews with landowners and revealed gaps in the council’s approach to biodiversity, largely due to a lack of resources and strategic clarity.

The majority of interviewees were open to protection and restoration of biodiversity on their land. Many were already doing so but felt they lacked the resources to do this successfully.

For some farmers, though, the bottom line was a dollar return.

“Disincentives” to protect high biodiversity areas included examples of farmers pushing cattle into rivers and bush to feed in times of economic struggle, and straightening streams with diggers.

Other farmers were simply struggling to make a living and felt blamed by the wider community for land and water degradation, the report says.

Maori landowners considered increased access to funding and resources, and other council support, a priority.

About 33 percent (271,769 hectares) of the district’s 839,000ha is indigenous forest, including 23 percent original native forest cover.

The Poverty Bay Flats contain 25ha of remaining original native forest.

The council is responsible for protecting the district’s land, water and biodiversity and, while there are council-led projects to restore biodiversity, these are largely focused on council land.

Protected land

About 101,950ha is protected as either Department of Conservation land or by QE2 or Nga Whenua Rahui covenant, while a further 58,000ha is listed by the council as protection management areas (PMAs).

The protection and restoration of the remaining 110,000ha depends largely on action by private landowners and community groups.

However, the report found restoration projects supported by the council on private land were few, and largely focused on pole planting for erosion control or riparian planting for water quality, with only $30,000 a year provided under the Natural Heritage Fund for other projects.

The report recommended immediately creating an online space for biodiversity information, funding and assistance available, and links to useful resources for landowners and the wider community.

It also suggested discussing with Maori potential partnerships around protecting and restoring biodiversity, improving cultural awareness of staff, and incorporating matauranga Maori with Western science.

For the long-term plan, the report recommended improving information on indigenous biodiversity, establishing a ground-up biodiversity traction plan, setting up an environmental advisory and support service, and expanding the Natural Heritage Fund.

Deputy mayor Rehette Stoltz said the report was a “very concerning read”.

From a governance perspective, the council needed to ensure the long- term plan would not allow protection management areas to be cleared.

It is a permitted activity under the current district plan to clear 500 square metres of protection management areas a year, meaning over time the whole area can be cleared.

“If we have rules in our district plan that go back on what we are trying to achieve, it is up to us to identify and change them,” Mrs Stoltz said.

Council senior policy adviser Abigail Salmond said landowners expressed similar views.

“People say ‘how are we expected to do this when you are allowing this to happen?’ ”

Opportunity for review

Transformation and relationships director Keita Kohere said the long-term plan presented an opportunity to review permitted activities.

“That plan is 20 years old, with content probably thought of 30 years ago, which does not reflect where we are trying to go now.”

Councillor Amber Dunn said she supported growing the Natural Heritage Fund, and suggested some of the money from industrial water charges could be fed back into biodiversity work.

Environmental and science manager Lois Easton said there had been three Natural Heritage Fund rounds and it was always over-subscribed.

They were looking at co-funding arrangements, and partnering with trusts and organisations, for biodiversity projects.

Councillor and committee chairwoman Pat Seymour, who has four QE2 covenants on her property, said the report “dwelled on the negative”.

“There were a couple of things (in the report) that really got me going.”

She was surprised to read about farmers pushing cattle into rivers and bush to feed them during winter, and straightening streams with diggers.

“I don’t think there are many instances of that happening.

“There are landowners doing a lot of good work. Most of us do care about the land and protecting it for the next generation.”

Ms Dunn said she agreed landowners and farmers cared for the land but the reality was biodiversity and water quality were “terrible”.

Gisborne’s land

  • The Gisborne district covers about 839,000 hectares (ha), 596,000ha of which are steep hill country, with 71,000ha flat or gently rolling land.
  • Pastoral farming (mainly sheep and beef) makes up about 43 percent, exotic forest 20 percent, 33 percent indigenous forest (including 23 percent original native forest), and the rest urban and cropping.
  • About 101,950ha is protected as either Department of Conservation land, or by QE2 or Nga Whenua Rahui covenant, and a further 58,000ha is listed by the council as protection management areas (PMAs).
  • On the Poverty Bay Flats 25ha of original native forest remains.
  • Wetlands are the most threatened ecosystem, with 1.75 percent remaining.

MORE funding and a coherent strategy are needed to turn around biodiversity decline, a report before Gisborne District Council recommends.

The Biodiversity Incentives Project, presented to the environmental planning and regulations committee, involved interviews with landowners and revealed gaps in the council’s approach to biodiversity, largely due to a lack of resources and strategic clarity.

The majority of interviewees were open to protection and restoration of biodiversity on their land. Many were already doing so but felt they lacked the resources to do this successfully.

For some farmers, though, the bottom line was a dollar return.

“Disincentives” to protect high biodiversity areas included examples of farmers pushing cattle into rivers and bush to feed in times of economic struggle, and straightening streams with diggers.

Other farmers were simply struggling to make a living and felt blamed by the wider community for land and water degradation, the report says.

Maori landowners considered increased access to funding and resources, and other council support, a priority.

About 33 percent (271,769 hectares) of the district’s 839,000ha is indigenous forest, including 23 percent original native forest cover.

The Poverty Bay Flats contain 25ha of remaining original native forest.

The council is responsible for protecting the district’s land, water and biodiversity and, while there are council-led projects to restore biodiversity, these are largely focused on council land.

Protected land

About 101,950ha is protected as either Department of Conservation land or by QE2 or Nga Whenua Rahui covenant, while a further 58,000ha is listed by the council as protection management areas (PMAs).

The protection and restoration of the remaining 110,000ha depends largely on action by private landowners and community groups.

However, the report found restoration projects supported by the council on private land were few, and largely focused on pole planting for erosion control or riparian planting for water quality, with only $30,000 a year provided under the Natural Heritage Fund for other projects.

The report recommended immediately creating an online space for biodiversity information, funding and assistance available, and links to useful resources for landowners and the wider community.

It also suggested discussing with Maori potential partnerships around protecting and restoring biodiversity, improving cultural awareness of staff, and incorporating matauranga Maori with Western science.

For the long-term plan, the report recommended improving information on indigenous biodiversity, establishing a ground-up biodiversity traction plan, setting up an environmental advisory and support service, and expanding the Natural Heritage Fund.

Deputy mayor Rehette Stoltz said the report was a “very concerning read”.

From a governance perspective, the council needed to ensure the long- term plan would not allow protection management areas to be cleared.

It is a permitted activity under the current district plan to clear 500 square metres of protection management areas a year, meaning over time the whole area can be cleared.

“If we have rules in our district plan that go back on what we are trying to achieve, it is up to us to identify and change them,” Mrs Stoltz said.

Council senior policy adviser Abigail Salmond said landowners expressed similar views.

“People say ‘how are we expected to do this when you are allowing this to happen?’ ”

Opportunity for review

Transformation and relationships director Keita Kohere said the long-term plan presented an opportunity to review permitted activities.

“That plan is 20 years old, with content probably thought of 30 years ago, which does not reflect where we are trying to go now.”

Councillor Amber Dunn said she supported growing the Natural Heritage Fund, and suggested some of the money from industrial water charges could be fed back into biodiversity work.

Environmental and science manager Lois Easton said there had been three Natural Heritage Fund rounds and it was always over-subscribed.

They were looking at co-funding arrangements, and partnering with trusts and organisations, for biodiversity projects.

Councillor and committee chairwoman Pat Seymour, who has four QE2 covenants on her property, said the report “dwelled on the negative”.

“There were a couple of things (in the report) that really got me going.”

She was surprised to read about farmers pushing cattle into rivers and bush to feed them during winter, and straightening streams with diggers.

“I don’t think there are many instances of that happening.

“There are landowners doing a lot of good work. Most of us do care about the land and protecting it for the next generation.”

Ms Dunn said she agreed landowners and farmers cared for the land but the reality was biodiversity and water quality were “terrible”.

Gisborne’s land

  • The Gisborne district covers about 839,000 hectares (ha), 596,000ha of which are steep hill country, with 71,000ha flat or gently rolling land.
  • Pastoral farming (mainly sheep and beef) makes up about 43 percent, exotic forest 20 percent, 33 percent indigenous forest (including 23 percent original native forest), and the rest urban and cropping.
  • About 101,950ha is protected as either Department of Conservation land, or by QE2 or Nga Whenua Rahui covenant, and a further 58,000ha is listed by the council as protection management areas (PMAs).
  • On the Poverty Bay Flats 25ha of original native forest remains.
  • Wetlands are the most threatened ecosystem, with 1.75 percent remaining.
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