Kea. Image: Daniel Pietzsch (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Measures to protect native biodiversity – Expert Reaction & SMC Briefing

From tomorrow, populations of indigenous species in Aotearoa must not drop below current levels, and habitats deemed significant must be protected.

The National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity aims to help councils, communities, landowners, and mana whenua consistently identify and protect our native wildlife. It will require councils to identify Significant Natural Areas within the next five years, and require all councils to have a regional biodiversity strategy.

The SMC asked experts to comment, and held a briefing with a biodiversity expert.

Dr Duane Peltzer, Chief Scientist, New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge; and ecosystem ecologist based at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research answered questions at a Science Media Centre briefing:

Conflict of interest statement: “Currently contracted with MFE for a technical review of ecological integrity. Also currently contracted with the Game Animal Council for a review of game animal effects on carbon.”

Professor Ann Brower, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The NPSIB is staunch but sensible. It is clear in its direction to avoid harm to our most vulnerable species and habitats, while giving quite a few get out of jail free exemptions.

“It also sets a strong and feasible bottom line of ‘at least no overall loss in indigenous biodiversity’ from 4 August 2023. It marks an exciting new era for NZ’s biodiversity, and is a very well designed policy.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Amanda Black, Director, Bioprotection Aotearoa, Rutherford Discovery Fellow, comments:

“Like every national policy statement, the testimony to the success will be how it is resourced and implemented. Regional Councils are already burdened with the impacts of climate change with the recent and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. The NPS statement prioritises the mauri and intrinsic value of indigenous biodiversity and recognises people’s connections and relationships with indigenous biodiversity, which is heading in the right direction.

“However, these are no easy parameters to identify or prioritise, and to do this justice there will have to be a lot more connection between researchers, communities, Māori, local and central government to avoid consultation fatigue and the adoption of quick wins which could be detrimental to long term gains in biodiversity recovery and resilience.

“For example, how do we value biodiversity? These are questions in research that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of, because this depends on the lens that it is seen through. The argument of maintaining biodiversity is an ecological and cultural narrative, however, this has not translated across to an economic narrative and we need to do that. Also, how will the mauri of a landscape be ‘assessed’ to be considered? This isn’t a value that can be quantified in the usual methods of health monitoring.

“The inclusion of a buffer to protect core areas of ecological value and the wider landscape to reduce external pressures really depends on the present land use and future land management. Again, we are only beginning to understand how land use changes impact on ecological function and there is no universal measure of biological function that could be rolled out at a national level, but it is something that researchers in this space are working towards understanding.

“In summary, it is a step in the right direction, but it will need solid underpinning information and appropriate resourcing.”

Conflict of interest statement: “I sit on the MfE IMSIP – Interim Matauranga and Science Advisory Panel.”

Professor Bruce Clarkson, restoration ecologist, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, comments:

“It is very pleasing to see that the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) has been ratified after such a long and difficult gestation. Nearly all the key aspects of earlier drafts remain but there are some disappointing exceptions to managing adverse effects relating to mining, quarrying and subdivision. The NPSIB has a good grounding in ecological principles focusing on terrestrial ecosystems (including wetlands), with aquatic systems covered by the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (2020) and coastal systems by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (2010).

“Importantly, the NPSIB has implementation requirements which, if adhered to, could make a significant difference to protecting and restoring indigenous biodiversity on private land. There is recognition that territorial local authorities need to promote restoration and enhancement (including through reconstruction) of wetlands, degraded significant natural areas and areas providing connectivity or buffering functions. Native vegetation cover of a minimum of 10% in urban and other depleted environments is to be promoted through objectives, policies, and methods in policy statements and plans.

“The requirement for regional councils to prepare a regional biodiversity strategy in collaboration with territorial local authorities, tangata whenua, communities and other identified stakeholders could be the process that finally delivers a coordinated response to reversing biodiversity decline at the regional scale across the country. Implementation of connected efforts to develop incentives (e.g., biodiversity credits) for landowners who do the right thing will make this more likely.

“Overall, the NPSIB will provide a stronger mandate for prioritising indigenous ecosystems, flora, and fauna, and for iwi and communities to fully participate in protecting and restoring Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique biological heritage.”

Conflict of interest statement: “The report mentioned is for transparency as the Collaborative Stakeholder Group developed the report which informed the draft NPS. I am now also Deputy Chair, Waikato Regional Council; I doubt this is a conflict of interest as all this work was done prior but I thought I should mention it.”

Erina Watene (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāi Te Rangi), Pou Pūtaiao / Chief Scientist – Māori, New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge / Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho, comments:

“The policies outlined in the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) are commendable and show a positive commitment to recognising and upholding the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They respect and empower tangata whenua by promoting kaitiakitanga and active involvement in decision-making for indigenous biodiversity within their rohe. The adoption of a precautionary approach, along with efforts to manage biodiversity for resilience to climate change, demonstrates a responsible and forward-thinking approach. The Policy’s provisions for recognising the unique relationship and knowledge of tangata whenua and Māori landowners, as well as incorporating mātauranga Māori, are vital steps towards safeguarding indigenous biodiversity.

“In my opinion, leveraging the NPSIB, tangata whenua directives/aspirations, learnings from the NZ Biological Heritage Science Challenge, and Te Mana o te Taiao could be instrumental in shaping a forward-looking and transformative Science platform under the Te Ara Paerangi reforms.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Beccy Ganley, Science Leader of Ngā Rākau Taketake – Saving Our Iconic Trees, New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, comments:

“Ngā Rākau Taketake supports policies that recognise the importance of our indigenous biodiversity and the rights and interests of Māori in protecting and preserving their biodiversity. It is incredibly important that we have active management and protection for our kauri and native myrtles (e.g., pōhutukawa, ramarama, maire tawake, rātā) which are at risk from two deadly diseases, kauri dieback and myrtle rust, that threaten their survival.

“We applaud the target of ensuring no further loss in indigenous biodiversity. With increased myrtle rust infection and tree death already in several of our native myrtle species, the timing of this policy statement is critical.”

No conflict of interest.