Farming column: Biodiversity: why it matters

Biodiversity includes ecosystems such as wetlands, sand dunes, tussock grasslands and forests, alongside our indigenous vegetation and the habitats of our indigenous fauna.

The Ministry for the Environment on a draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB). Submissions close on March 14..

‘Biodiversity’ is a hot topic right now. For those of us in the world of resource management, the topic’s importance is up there with water and climate change. 

Biodiversity is an important part of our identity as New Zealanders, the things we proudly stand for and enjoy, and what makes us unique.  It is also a key aspect of many farms.

When it comes to government regulation, the term is used in relation to New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity. It includes ecosystems such as wetlands, sand dunes, tussock grasslands and forests, alongside our indigenous vegetation and the habitats of our indigenous fauna.

This is the third time in a decade that a New Zealand government has tried to get national regulation through on this topic. The difference this time is two-fold. Firstly, there appears to be cross-party support for adopting a National Policy Statement on biodiversity – that’s not to say that the contents and provisions aren’t up for debate though.

Secondly, while New Zealand has a vast number of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, many of these are now on threatened or on at-risk lists. We have been called out internationally for our track record on biodiversity loss, and it’s accepted that in many instances we need to do more.

While the need to maintain or protect biodiversity is already required under the Resource Management Act, these new proposals will impact privately owned land.  This is because New Zealand farmers have a considerable proportion (2.7 million hectares) of New Zealand’s remaining indigenous habitat on their land.  

In most cases, the biodiversity is there because it is something farmers value, and are proud to have kept, managed and in many cases restored or planted it over the years. 

Often it is something farmers don’t even realise they’ve been protecting.  To them it might just be the ‘bush over there that I’ve kept for stock shelter or shade’ or ‘the swamp that’s useful for reducing flood risk’ or ‘the gully I keep in scrub as it helps with erosion’. 

What we don’t want is for the good work that has resulted in biodiversity remaining on-farm, to be discouraged, or seen as a ‘penalty’. Too often, fears of unnecessary red-tape and regulation act as a disincentive to do more of the same into the future. 

The government must strike the right balance between getting the right outcomes for biodiversity, while enabling primary production to continue, and be viable, diverse, and flexible enough to respond to changing climates and market conditions.

Success will only come where that balance has been met, and where the government backs its agenda with the necessary funding. Easy wins for government can come from funding increased support and guidance for those using the land, making sure councils have access to the resources they need, getting a better picture of how our biodiversity is actually faring, and importantly increased funding to the QEII Trust and the NZ Landcare Trust.

Biodiversity matters, so let’s see if the government can land the right outcomes for us all.


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