15.4 What is being done?

Policy documents

Regional Policy Statement

The Northland Regional Council has undertaken a five year review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Regional Policy Statement (RPS). This review identified that the ecosystems and biodiversity section is a priority for review, particularly given the new functions for Councils under the 2003 amendment of the RMA. The NRC is currently investigating a plan change to the ecosystems and biodiversity chapter of the RPS. The Regional Policy Statement and the efficiency and effectiveness report is available on the Council website: www.nrc.govt.nz/rps

Regional Water and Soil Plan

There are a number of rules within the Regional Water and Soil Plan that help to protect aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in Northland. Although the primary purpose of a number of these rules is not the protection of biodiversity it is frequently an additional outcome. Rules concerning the taking of water from rivers and lakes and also the discharge of contaminants into these waters help to protect these ecosystems as do rules concerning the damming and diversion of waterways. Indigenous wetlands are protected by separate rules. Rules around vegetation clearance and land disturbance on erosion prone land and in the Riparian Management Zone aim to limit the impact that these activities have on water quality and therefore aquatic biodiversity. The Regional Water and Soil plan is available on the Council website: www.nrc.govt.nz/rwsp

Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP)

The Northland Regional Council Long Term Community Plan is a document put together by the Regional Council and the community that sets a strategic direction for the Council. The plan outlines a direction for a ten year time frame but within this time it is reviewed and evaluated every three years.

There a number of priorities identified for the 2007-2009 time period that set a framework for the biodiversity protection work that the Council is involved with. Detail can be found in ‘Section 3: Northland's natural environment is sustainably managed' in the LTCCP available on the Council website: www.nrc.govt.nz/ltccp

Regional Pest Management Strategies

The Northland Regional Council utilises a number of different strategies for managing pest plants and pest animals in Northland. In July 2006, the Regional Council, after public consultation, adopted the Regional Pest Management Strategy for aquatic pests. In addition to aquatic weeds previously contained in the RPMS, the new strategy includes pest fish such as koi carp, rudd, tench, orfe and catfish.

These strategies are available on the council website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.govt.nz/Resource-Library-Summary/Plans-and-Policies/Pest-management/Northland-Pest-Management-Strategies

A review of all Regional Pest Management strategies will be undertaken during 2008. Public input is a statutory requirement of the review and for new pests to be included community support will be required.

National policy

In April 2007 the Ministry for the Environment released the Statement of National Priorities for protecting rare and threatened native biodiversity on private land, which identifies the types of ecosystems and habitats most in need of protection. The statement supports the government's pledge to maintain and preserve New Zealand's natural heritage and will be of particular use to local government, which has the primary role of protecting native biodiversity on private land − a role assigned to them under the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991. Along with clear priorities, the statement provides a national perspective which councils can use in planning and decision-making.

Four national priorities for biodiversity protection have been set:

  1. To protect indigenous vegetation associated with land environments that have 20% or less remaining in indigenous cover.
  2. To protect indigenous vegetation associated with sand dunes and wetland; ecosystem types that have become uncommon due to human activity.
  3. To protect vegetation associated with "originally rare" terrestrial ecosystem types not already covered by priorities 1 and 2.
  4. To protect habitats of acutely and chronically threatened indigenous species.

For more information on the Statement of National priorities refer to the following websites: www.biodiversity.govt.nz/land/guidance/

www.mfe.govt.nz/issues/biodiversity/initiatives/private-land/work-programme.html

Protected Natural Areas Programme

The Protected Natural Areas Programme (PNAP) is a process whereby all remaining natural areas of significance throughout New Zealand are identified, evaluated and mapped by field survey by the Department of Conservation. This fulfils Section 3(b) of the Reserves Act 1977 with the specific aim that over time representative areas of a full range of representative biological and landscape features are protected nationally.

Published PNAP information compliments the information requirements of the RMA and is used widely by planners and land managers. It identifies areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna which need to be protected. Some of the Northland PNAP information has been digitised and is now readily available as a mapping tool for planners and land managers.

PNAP surveys have been undertaken for most Ecological Districts throughout Northland. There are 13 published reports with three others written due to be published soon. An additional three areas have surveys either complete or almost complete including Manaia, Tokatoka and Tangihua Ecological Districts. The first Ecological Districts were surveyed more than 14 years ago, so some of the information is out of date, especially for districts such as Kerikeri where there has been a lot of recent development. There is a need to keep this information up to date by checking or resurveying sites. An Envirolink funded research project has been approved to recheck sites surveyed in two ecological districts, to see what habitats have been lost or gained over the last 10 years. The districts proposed for this work are Kerikeri where there has been a lot of recent growth and development, and its neighbour Kaikohe which has remained relatively rural.

Wetland habitat quality monitoring

The Regional Council intends to set up a formal long term wetland monitoring programme for Northland, using national methodology designed by Landcare Research. Approximately 20 wetlands in good condition across the region, covering a range of wetland types, will be monitored. This involves putting in permanent vegetation plots as well as undertaking water and soil sampling. In addition several Northland wetlands are already included in the national network of wetlands routinely monitored by Landcare Research.

There are two components to wetland monitoring: initial assessment and long term monitoring. A number of wetlands in Northland have had initial assessments carried out. These wetlands were all surveyed and assigned scores based on their relative condition i.e. closeness to being pristine versus level of disturbance. These condition scores enable the wetlands across the region to be compared, ranked and prioritised.

The results from both initial and long term monitoring of wetlands will be recorded in the Regional Council's Biodiversity and Wetlands database, which was constructed in 2007.

Threatened plants

A list of regionally threatened and uncommon vascular plants have been drafted by a group of local and national plant experts and will be put out for public comment. There are over 300 species on this list which equates to over 40% of Northland's indigenous flora. This list, combined with survey information about sites, is a good tool for planning and prioritising management as well as providing good information for use when issuing resource management consents, allocating funding for projects and recommending land protection.

Biosecurity management

Animal pests and plant pests both pose major threats to indigenous biodiversity in Northland. The climate is favourable for the establishment of many exotic species; stress placed on natural ecosystems from factors such as land clearance, grazing and nutrient enrichment increases their vulnerability to these pests.

Biosecurity needs to be focused at high valued conservation sites on private land, under-represented ecosystems, protecting threatened species and pre-border control. There is a need to support the Crown (both DOC and MAF) in their attempts to control biosecurity threats on land they administer within the region and pre-border.

 

Community Pest Control Areas

Community Pest Control Areas (CPCA) is one of the strategies that the Regional Council utilises for managing plant and animal pests in Northland. The establishment of a CPCA requires an agreement between the Council and a group of landowners on how to manage a particular pest or range of pests in a defined area. The agreements vary from group to group and set out how initial control will be carried out, how ongoing maintenance will be managed and who is responsible for the different stages.

The CPCA approach enables the Council to provide advice, training, monitoring and funding over several years. In return the landowners undertake to continue management of pests longer term. For a proposed project to qualify as a CPCA it is necessary that the area is defendable in order to minimise reinvasion, that there is a high level of landowner support within the proposed area and that the values being protected are significant as listed in Section 72(c) of the Biosecurity Act 1993.

There are currently 21 either proposed or active Community Pest Control Areas (CPCA) in Northland. This includes 22,000 hectares of private land under management, of which 2,500 hectares is protected habitat (forest and wetland) and over 600 ratepayers are involved.

The range of pests that can be included for control within a CPCA agreement are listed in the Community Pest Control Areas brochure available from the Northland Regional Council or from the Council website: www.nrc.govt.nz/cpca  

Other agency support

In addition to funding biosecurity projects through the Council Environment Fund and the Community Pest Control Areas the Council also supports other agencies that are involved in biodiversity protection work in Northland - QEII, NorthTec (formerly Northland Polytech), private trusts, and universities have been financially supported to achieve environmental outcomes for the region.

Research funding

The Northland Regional Council has instigated applications to secure funding for a number of research projects around issues of importance to Northland. More than $200,000 of Crown funded Science advice funds have been granted to address biosecurity issues in Northland.

Weed control initiatives

· The control of all Manchurian wild rice sites in the region and the inclusion of this pest plant on the list of "pest plants of national importance" by Biosecurity New Zealand (BNZ). Funding from BNZ to assist containment of this plant, with the aim of halting its spread to other regions is expected during 2008.

· More than half of the African feather grass sites have now reached a clear status and 90 percent of the remaining outlying sites are predicted to be at low to nil infestation levels within the next four years.

· The continued control of lantana in urban centres halting its spread, and a targeted campaign to stop this pest plant reaching Far North reserves.

· All spartina will be under management by the end of next year. In addition all known sites will either be fully eradicated or remaining areas of spartina will be negligible in a further four years.

· Control of the invasive aquatic plant hornwort in high value dune lakes has been initiated.

National Pest Plants Accord

The Pest Plant Accord is a cooperative agreement between nursery and garden associations, regional councils and government departments with biosecurity responsibilities. It identifies plants that are unwanted organisms under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and these plants cannot be sold, propagated or distributed within New Zealand.

Northland Regional Council staff give regulatory and/or control advice to landowners and nursery managers. All plant retail premises in Northland have been inspected with the outcome of total compliance with the sales ban of plants included on the National Accord list.

The Northland Regional Council also contributes to a national collective of councils and agencies so that the biological control of plants listed on the Accord can be researched and solutions to their control found.

Other biosecurity work

In addition to work carried out under the strategies outlined above the Northland Regional Council is involved in a number of other biosecurity projects that help to protect biodiversity values in Northland, including:

· A number of successful releases of agents for environmental weeds such as mistflower and funded biocontrol research of boneseed and tradescantia.

· A 6,000 hectare community led scheme to eradicate goats at Mt Tiger - Pataua area.

· Establishment of an intensive stoat trapping regime at the Oneriri Peninsula as a precursor to the reintroduction of North Island brown kiwi.

· 49 releases of new biological control agents for agriculture plant pests.

· Maintenance of the region's "wild deer free" status, jointly with Department of Conservation and the Animal Health Board; wild red, fallow and wapiti deer have been removed from the region and farmed deer escapes minimized.

Biodiversity enhancement

Northland Biodiversity Enhancement Group

Northland Biodiversity Enhancement Group (N-BEG) was formed in 2001 and was New Zealand's first regional biodiversity forum. It is convened by NZ Landcare Trust and its partners are agencies and organisations with a role in biodiversity protection in Northland. These include Northland Regional Council, NZ Landcare Trust, Department of Conservation, district councils, Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, Fish and Game NZ, Farm Forestry Association, NZ Kiwi Recovery and BNZ Kiwi Recovery.

N-Begs goal is to "promote the protection of biodiversity in Northland" recognising that working collaboratively increases the effectiveness of each partner especially when promoting and assisting biodiversity enhancement on private land.

The group has been successful and continues to grow and build momentum. Projects to date include:

· Displays at field days, shows and workshops.

· Landowner self help "Restoring the Balance" kit (assisted by Biodiversity Advice Fund).

· "Your Land Our Support" pamphlet (about N-BEG and where to get information).

· Strategic interagency approach and workshops.

· Whole of Northland Project (see below).

Whole of Northland Project

The Whole of Northland Project was initiated by N-BEG in 2005 and was funded jointly by the Biodiversity Advice Fund, Northland Regional Council and Department of Conservation (Northland Conservancy). The project aimed to develop and implement an integrated approach to biodiversity enhancement in Northland. Stage one of the project finished in August 2007.

The key outcomes of the project are:

· Liaising with Landcare and other community initiatives, organisations and agency staff to identify information needs, gaps and opportunities to resource further biodiversity work.

· Encouraging provision of information and advice in a way that meets needs of landowners and agencies.

· Sourcing and collating information on current biodiversity management activities in Northland into ‘The Whole of Northland Report' (Mullouly 2007).

· Present information as a series of layers within a GIS framework where possible

The completion of an inventory on biodiversity activities will meet a number of needs. It will identify the contribution that the region is making to New Zealand's overall biodiversity outcomes, help to grow the understanding and appreciation of the extent of biodiversity values in the region, and lever further community support for work to protect and enhance these values. The process will also provide a benchmark for the basis of further work in Northland.

The detailed report is available on the Regional Council website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.govt.nz/Resource-Library-Summary/Research-and-reports/Biodiversity/Whole-of-Northland-Project-/

Environment care groups

There are currently more than 55 Landcare and community groups operating in Northland many of which are involved in a range of biodiversity focused projects from small scale possum control, plant pest eradication to large ecosystem protection projects. There are at least 52,000 hectares of land being actively managed for kiwi protection in Northland by Landcare groups and the Department of Conservation. 60% of the actively managed area for kiwi is on private land.

Regional Council Environment Fund

The Northland Regional Council's Environment Fund is a contestable fund that was established to assist land owners and community groups carrying out work that assists with the protection or enhancement of indigenous biodiversity. The Northland Regional Council recognises that biodiversity protection work carried out on private land has benefits for the wider community; the fund is a means of acknowledging this.

The fund accepts applications through an annual round; the fund will meet a percentage of the costs of projects of the successful applicants. A range of different projects are eligible for funding including pest and weed control, bush protection, riparian protection and enhancement, coastal protection and re-vegetation projects. The importance of protecting wetland and dune ecosystems is recognised through the allocation of funding targeted specifically at these criteria.

In addition to the funding from Council, money from the Honda Tree Fund and from court fines received by the Council have been allocated and administered through this fund mechanism.

Since 1996 the fund has allocated $1.5 million to various projects. For the 2007/08 financial year $505,000 has been allocated from this fund to the following areas:

· Shade house with young plants.General projects ($185,000)

· Wetland protection ($100,000)

· Pest control projects ($75,000 from the biosecurity budget for areas outside Community Pest Control Areas)

· Coastal dune protection ($25,000)

· Stock exclusion from the CMA ($100,000).

Additional funding administered through the fund includes:

· Native re-vegetation projects with the Honda NZ Tree Fund ($22,400); and

· Projects within the Ruakaka area funded from a court fine ($20,000).

Biodiversity Advice and Condition Funds

The establishment of the Biodiversity Advice Fund (BAF) and the Biodiversity Condition Fund (BCF) by central Government in 2001 has allowed for active management of biodiversity throughout New Zealand. These funds currently allocate over $3 million nationally each year for biodiversity on private land. Information on these funds is available on the biodiversity New Zealand website at the following link:

http://www.biodiversity.govt.nz/land/nzbs/pvtland/condition.html

Since 2002 (including funding rounds 2 - 8) Northland has received nearly $308,000 (9.3%) from the total amount of Biodiversity Advice Funding that has been allocated and $1.28 million (17.8%) from the total amount of Biodiversity Condition Funding allocated. This reflects Northland's relatively high residual biodiversity.

There have been a number of projects that have been jointly funded by the NRC Biodiversity Condition Fund and landowners. The Biodiversity Condition Fund provides the Council with an opportunity to apply for additional funding for Environment Fund projects that it sees as of regional or national significance. Projects that have been jointly funded using this approach, and frequently also supported by QEII National Trust, include the protection of coastal forest remnants around the margins of the Kaipara Harbour, stock exclusion from a number of indigenous wetlands throughout Northland and the protection of a number of significant bush remnants.

Legally protected land

Of the 416,900 ha of native vegetation land cover in Northland in 2002, approximately 36% of it was legally protected in 2006 as either Department of Conservation reserve, QEII covenants, WDC covenants, wildlife refuge or District Council reserves, where the land has been set aside as a reserve for the protection of flora, fauna or wildlife reasons.

Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation (DOC) manages the Crown Estate in Northland. It is the main agency responsible for the management of indigenous vegetation and fauna and provides an advocacy role on private land. This is carried out under the Conservation Act 1987, created to promote the conservation of New Zealand's natural and historic resources. DOC manages approximately 167,250 hectares of land in Northland, including pastoral farming blocks such as Te Paki farm in the Far North.

Nga Whenua Rahui

This fund is managed by the Department of Conservation and will fund the protection of indigenous ecosystem on Maori land. This includes biodiversity and ecosystem protection and can be used to meet the costs of survey work, fencing, plant nursery development, and pest and weed control. Land area in Northland protected under Nga Whenua Rahui is approximately 5,400 hectares as of November 2007.

District Councils

Since 1998 the Whangarei District Council has contributed $30,000 per annum to the QEII National Trust for the establishment of new open space covenants within the Whangarei District. To date 100 new covenants have been established. Whangarei District Council approved a contestable Environmental Enhancement Fund in August 2007 that is available to both individuals and community groups. The sum available is $20,000 per annum and can be applied to a range of projects that benefit biodiversity primarily on private land including (but not limited to) weed and animal pest control, restoration planting, and fencing.

Since 2003 the Far North District Council has provided $50,000 per annum for biodiversity funding to assist and encourage landowners and community groups to protect and enhance indigenous vegetation on private land. The criteria set down for the Significant Natural Areas (SNA) Fund includes:

· fencing

· weed and animal pest programmes

· planting

· advocacy programmes aimed at protecting, maintaining and/or enhancing significant natural areas

· monitor pests, weeds and habitat values.

The Kaipara District Council Biodiversity Improvement Fund was established in 2005 and provides funding to landowners and community groups that will benefit native biodiversity. The Council currently provides $15,000 annually.

The district councils also have formal policies and rules relating to the protection of biodiversity, particularly the clearance of indigenous vegetation and wetlands, and informal incentives such as rates relief for covenanted land.

QEII National Trust

The Queen Elizabeth the Second (QEII) National Trust Act provides a legal mechanism to secure the protection of biodiversity on private land through the creation of an open space covenant. An open space covenant is a legally binding agreement between the landowner and the Trust to maintain an area as open space in perpetuity.

At August 2007, Northland has 442 registered QEII National Trust Open Covenants and a further 92 approved, as shown in table 4 (below). The total land area in registered and approved covenants is 8118 hectares. The largest covenant is 417 ha. However, most covenants in Northland are small, with an average size of 15 ha. Northland has a larger number of smaller covenants than anywhere else in New Zealand, though the total area covenanted is comparable to other similar sized regions. The district with the highest concentration of covenants is Whangarei.

Table 4: Number and area of QEII covenants in Northland by district as of August 2007

   
Covenant status
 
District   Approved Registered Total
Far North Number of covenants 25 123 148
  Total area (ha) 769 3295 4064
  Average size (ha) 30.7 26.8 27.5
Kaipara Number of covenants 25 86 111
  Total Area (ha) 397 1362 1759
  Average size (ha) 15.8 15.8 15.8
Whangarei Number of covenants 42 233 275
  Total Area (ha) 386 1904 2290
  Average size (ha) 9.2 8.2 8.3

Total number for Northland
92 442 534

Total area for Northland (ha)
1552 6561 8113

Average size for Northland (ha)
16.7 14.8 15.2

Nationally Northland has a reputation for being the busiest area for QEII with a steady flow of enquiries and covenant processing for staff. The number of regional representatives in the Northland area has had to be increased from one to three in the last 10 years. There are a total of 27 regional representatives nationally.

There are a number of reasons for the increasing interest in covenanting in Northland. Recent population growth and higher land values have resulted in many new lifestyle subdivisions throughout the region which has resulted in covenants being set aside as environmental benefit lots. In addition higher farm values have put pressure on farmers to subdivide or sell farms and often landowners are keen to see their favourite piece of bush or wetland protected especially when they have owned the property for many years.

There has been a coordinated push between agencies to protect particular areas of land often by pooling funding resources. For example, WDC contributes up to $30,000 annually as a 50% subsidy once QEII has spent $60,000. It is also estimated that around 20% of projects sponsored by the NRC Environment Fund result in covenants either as part of the original project or later on. NRC and district councils do not contribute to covenants as part of environmental benefit lots for subdivision.

Another trend has been a swing towards protection of wetlands and riparian areas rather than forest. This is most likely due to advocacy about the importance of wetland and riparian protection, and clean water, coming from the Regional Council and other agencies.