Policy report

Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity is unique. Millions of years of geographic isolation have resulted in a vast assemblage of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Humans, however, have caused widespread extinctions and massive reductions in extent of habitats in a very short period since their arrival between 700 and 800 years ago. Today, 80 per cent of native birds, 88 per cent of lizards, and 100 per cent of frogs are threatened with extinction. Between 1996 and 2012 there was a net loss of 71,000 hectares of indigenous habitat, mostly in areas of lowlands, wetlands and coastal habitat, habitats which have been most reduced by human actions. Predators and weeds introduced by humans wreak havoc. These effects are ongoing. The decline in our country’s indigenous biodiversity on land, in freshwater and in the surrounding seas is our most insidious environmental problem.

New Zealanders have a strong attachment to the country’s landscapes and natural heritage. It is one of the features that defines us as a nation and as a people. A very large effort is being made to nurture our indigenous biodiversity and halt its decline. However, the overall national policy framework for this effort is not comprehensive or robust. There is a strong system for legal protection of public conservation areas, but this represents only a third of the country, mainly in mountainous areas. We tend to think nature is looked after because we have these protected areas. But it isn’t. Increased effort is needed to manage areas already protected. More importantly, better direction is required to ensure that indigenous biodiversity outside protected areas is allowed to thrive.

Improving our country’s indigenous biodiversity policy framework has been a goal of successive governments for over 20 years. But they have been unable to achieve consensus on how to do this, especially outside protected areas. An obvious tool to create consistency across the country is a national policy statement (NPS) under the Resource Management Act. Government first began to discuss the prospect of an NPS for biodiversity in 1999 and there have been a number of attempts to produce one since that time. Their failure to come to fruition is the product of the intense debate that this issue creates, and the government’s subsequent response (to step back from progressing the instrument). In the meantime, New Zealanders’ attachments to nature and efforts to halt the decline in indigenous biodiversity have grown. New Zealand promotes itself in the world as a place of unspoiled nature. Many of our overseas markets are demanding proof of our protection of the environment as part of their willingness to support our products. And while these trends gather pace, we continue to have an unsettled framework, resulting in division, costly debates, and litigation.

This report is the result of those with a major stake in looking after indigenous biodiversity – industry, landowners, tangata whenua and environmental non-government agencies (NGOs) – coming together and agreeing on an NPS that will work for our country’s interests. But the report also covers something equally important. An NPS of itself will not be the complete solution. What is required is stronger and clearer leadership and coordination of effort at a national level; better support for landowners and managers; alignment and coherence of policies and institutions of government; and improved knowledge, monitoring and compliance. We set these measures out in an accompanying document. The combination of an effective NPS for indigenous biodiversity and well-resourced complementary and supporting measures will ensure our country finally achieves an effective overall framework for halting the decline in indigenous biodiversity, regardless of whether land is held in private, public or lease-hold tenure.

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