This is the first report focused solely on land in the environmental reporting series begun in 2015. Our land 2018 reports on the state of the soil, and the state of indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems. The aim is to provide an overview of condition, and changes over time, to support decision-making at all levels of society.
• Land is fundamental to human life, and central to the environmental system we depend on. The decisions we make and the actions we take affect not just the land, but also water, oceans, air and atmosphere, and the life they support.
• There have been significant shifts in land use in the past two decades. These include: – expansion in urban areas (a 10 percent increase between 1996 and 2012), and accompanying loss of some of our most versatile land – reduction in the area of land in agricultural production (7 percent decrease between 2002 and 2012) – increase in the proportion of farmland used for dairy (42 percent increase in area between 2002 and 2016), and a decrease in the area in sheep and beef (20 percent reduction between 2002 and 2016) – continued intensification of farming, including a shift in the past 15 years to higher stocking rates, especially for dairy.
• The quantity and quality of soil are affected by erosion and intensification of agriculture: – of the 192 million tonnes of soil estimated lost each year, 44 percent comes from exotic grassland – while five out of seven indicators of soil quality were largely within target range, two indicators present concern, as more than 48 percent of tested sites were outside target range for those properties – one indicator is for phosphorus content in soil, which when too high can have negative impacts on water quality; the second indicator is for macroporosity (which is part of the soil’s physical status and when too low is an indicator of compaction), which can have negative impacts on water quality and production – sites under more intensive land uses, such as dairy, cropping and horticulture, and dry stock, were more frequently outside target range for these two soil quality indicators.
• Indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems continue to be under threat: – there was continued loss of indigenous land cover – coastal and lowland ecosystems continued to decline in extent – nearly 83 percent (285 of 344 taxa) of the land vertebrates classified in the threatened species system were either threatened or at risk of extinction, and the status of 11 species declined – predation and plant-eating by pests, as well as disease and weeds, continued to threaten indigenous biodiversity.
• There is a bright spot for biodiversity – 20 bird species have improved conservation status. The status improvement for more than half of these bird species was dependent on intensive conservation management.
• There are significant gaps in the data that limit the analysis in this report. Filling these gaps would support better decision-making. This is particularly important for our key economic asset – the soil, and the underlying environmental services that biodiversity and ecosystems provide.