How does ‘Biodiversity’ fit into the RPS?
Healthy ecosystems and a healthy environment are critical in supporting biodiversity, and also in providing ecosystem services to support our prosperity and wellbeing. The issues identified in the RPS reflect the fact that within the Waikato region, extensive clearance of vegetation and drainage of wetlands has reduced the extent of habitats by 75 per cent overall, with some ecosystems below 5 per cent of their original extent. There are currently 223 species of native plants and animals threatened with extinction.
The declining quality and quantity of biodiversity impacts on its life-supporting capacity, reduces intrinsic values and ecosystem services and in general reduces our ability to provide for our wellbeing. This loss of values also negatively impacts on cultural relationships with biodiversity developed by mana whenua over many hundreds of years. Indeed, it erodes cultural capital that hapū need to maintain their traditions and health.
Indigenous vegetation cover
The rate of loss began to occur following the first arrival of humans in New Zealand, but accelerated between the 1840s and 1970s. We are continuing to suffer incremental losses of indigenous biodiversity today.
Protecting and restoring indigenous vegetation is commonly viewed as a halt to economic progress and production, which costs individual landowners. Some councils may also perceive this work as a cost and it is often an area vulnerable to cost-cutting measures. Indigenous biodiversity protection and restoration is also perceived as ‘nice to have’ rather than an integral part of a thriving economy. Such a polarised approach reduces our ability to seek win-win opportunities for biodiversity and for economic and social wellbeing.
Regional councils have a clear statutory mandate to maintain and enhance indigenous biodiversity actions through instruments such as the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Biosecurity Act 1993. However, we are not meeting these statutory requirements and our historical approach to biodiversity management has not been effective.
The Indigenous Biodiversity chapter of the RPS signals a marked change in approach to biodiversity management, recognising that we need to achieve ecological protection and restoration goals and realise economic, social and cultural benefits if we are to be successful.
There are many projects underway contributing to fulfilling this aim. The Local Indigenous Biodiversity Strategy (LIBS) pilot, otherwise known as Source to the Sea Te Puna o Waihou ki Tīkapa te Moana, demonstrates a new approach to co-operatively managing indigenous biodiversity at a regional scale, and deals with the issue of biodiversity decline.
There is currently a programme to identify areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna. Waikato Regional Council administers several funds such as the Environmental Initiatives Fund, and the daily work of Land Management Officers helps landowners with pest control. The regional council also undertakes biodiversity restoration on council land and offers funding incentives to fence priority sites, among other projects.
Conserving or enhancing indigenous biodiversity: The RPS promotes positive indigenous biodiversity in order to maintain or enhance the full range of functional ecosystems. Although there has been significant loss of biodiversity, it is possible to stop this degradation and to help restore our region’s biodiversity. Doing so will enhance the native plants and animals that only live here, as well as enhance our economy, social and cultural wellbeing.
With the increasing trend for people and organisations to be involved in biodiversity projects (Nature Space, The Ripple Effect, and Waikato Biodiversity Forum for example), there is an opportunity to harness this existing good work and goodwill more effectively. This is important since the natural environment is fundamental to our wellbeing, health and economy. It provides us with a range of benefits – ecosystem services including food, water, materials, flood defences and carbon sequestration – and biodiversity underpins most, if not all, of them.
A co-ordinated approach: The RPS signals a move towards a strategic, proactive and coordinated biodiversity management approach with landowners, mana whenua and other agencies. In addition, Waikato Regional Council has embarked on a comprehensive information gathering project to complete a biodiversity inventory and to improve internal co-ordination of the biodiversity programme across the council.
Matthew Vare, Senior Policy Advisor for Science and Strategy (Policy Implementation).
Alan Saunders, Team Leader - Natural Heritage for Integrated Catchment Management (Natural Heritage).
Moniqua Nelson-Tunley, Site Restoration Advisor for Integrated Catchment Management (Natural Heritage).
“The RPS Biodiversity chapter signals a significant change in approach to biodiversity management. The identification and co-ordinated management of ecological networks - that allows for co-operation and integration within and across organisations – will encourage the discussion of biodiversity and development, rather than biodiversity or development.” Matthew Vare, Senior Policy Advisor for Science and Strategy (Policy Implementation).