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Misinformation Circulating On Biodiversity Policy

Forest & Bird is concerned at misinformation circulating regarding a policy statement aimed at protecting New Zealand’s unique biodiversity. 

The National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity is being consulted on by the Ministry for the Environment. The policy statement aims to provide some much-needed clarity around how councils should protect native plants and animals on public and private land. The draft policy was produced by a collaborative process involving stakeholders as diverse as Forest & Bird, Federated Farmers and electricity generators. The submission period closes on 14 March. 

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocacy Manager Jennifer Miller says: “Humans depend on nature for our survival, yet we are losing native species and places at an alarming rate. The Resource Management Act already requires that councils have rules to maintain biodiversity and protect significant natural areas (SNAs). And in fact many councils have already made considerable process. But in some areas there has been far too much litigation over what the protection means in practice.”

“The groups involved in writing this policy statement are usually on opposite sides of the court room, not around the same table. This was a unique opportunity to hear the other side’s perspectives and come up with policy that everyone felt they could live with,” Ms Miller said. 

“As a result, the policy statement strikes a balance where farming and other existing activities can generally continue without too much oversight, but new activities that would destroy certain native plants or habitats generally can’t. It also makes sure that the processes are fair. The policy recognises that having conversations with landowners about their land is critical to the success of the whole process – they are often best placed to know what they’ve got and why it’s special."

Contrary to recent media reports, the policy statement does not result in loss of private land, and does not allow public access to private land. “A story in the media of a West Coast farmer who would “lose” his land because of the policy is incorrect. Anyone who tells you differently has been led up the wrong path. Every district plan in New Zealand already has rules controlling native vegetation clearance.

Read Forest & Bird's fact sheet on the National Policy Statement here.

"This policy statement is about providing certainty and consistency, and about regarding native species in your backyard as an asset and not a liability. I encourage everyone to read the policy – even just the summary of it – to understand what it does and does not do,” says Ms Miller. 

“If a farm is being used as a farm, but some vegetation has regrown in between maintenance cycles, in most cases it can be cleared. But if an area of land has well established bush or is important habitat of threatened species, most New Zealanders would agree that cutting it down to turn it into a subdivision or pasture is not what should be happening.” 

"There are many untold stories of huge areas of New Zealand’s bush and other critical natural areas being cleared and turned into housing or farms. This is not historical – it is still happening. Between 1990 and 2008, 70,200 ha of native grassland was converted to pasture in the inland South Island alone. The West Coast region had the largest clearance of native forest anywhere in the country from 1996-2012, of over 5000 hectares. In Southland, 90 per cent of wetlands have been cleared and drained. An astonishing 3452 ha of that clearance has happened since 1990. 

Forest & Bird and the Federated Farmers issued a joint press statement last year hailing the draft Policy Statement as a genuine environmental breakthrough.

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