The Government’s National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity is a recipe for uncertainty, increased costs, perverse outcomes and less effective management of native flora and fauna on private land, Federated Farmers says.
“With the long-delayed release, we had our fingers crossed the extra time taken was so flaws in the 2022 exposure draft were remedied – but not so,” Federated Farmers national board member and resource management spokesperson Mark Hooper said.
“We have fears the NPSIB will lead to protracted arguments over interpretation, with a ‘lots of stick, few carrots’ approach, making it ineffective and costly for councils to enforce and for landowners to comply with.”
Feds and its farmer members aren’t against sensible restrictions that protect indigenous biodiversity, Hooper said.
Nearly a quarter of the nation’s native vegetation cover is on farmland – that’s second only to the conservation estate. Farming families comprise the majority of landowners who have voluntarily protected special places of biodiversity under QEII covenants.
In relation to aspects such as ‘significant natural areas’ (SNAs) and what the NPSIB calls “connectivity between ecosystems”, Federated Farmers advocated for clear definitions, emphasis on protecting what is truly significant, and an NPS in plain language so landowners can understand and interpret what is expected.
“But it appears a lot of expert assessment and interpretation will be required to evaluate an SNA, which is beyond lay people’s ability, and which is likely to result in costly litigation and drawn-out consenting battles.”
Councils must ‘allow maintenance of improved pasture to continue’ but a burden of proof by the landowner is now required that the pasture maintenance is part of a regular cycle, and adverse effects on an SNA are not greater in intensity, scale or character than previous maintenance work. Time limits may apply to ascertain whether maintenance/clearing work is ‘regular’.
With the NPSIB now finalised, the Government has moved even further away from recommendations arising from 18 months’ of detailed work by the Biodiversity Collaborative Group, which included the likes of Federated Farmers and Forest & Bird.
“There’s a bit of a pattern with this Government. As with He Waka Eke Noa, diverse groups are asked to thrash out something that is practical, each making compromises in the interests of gaining consensus – only for the Government to then come back with something more extreme.”
Hooper said that while the concept of biodiversity credits is positive and worth exploring, new directions for councils to implement may backfire.
“The increased control over human activities (such as day-to-day farming) on private land that results from requirements to protect indigenous biodiversity outside of SNAs (such as bird species that choose to land on a farm now and then) could have the perverse effect of encouraging private landowners to conceal the presence of certain species on their land, or to plant exotic vegetation not subject to indigenous species protection requirements.”
As well, the promised package of support for landowners to restore, maintain and protect biodiversity has not been delivered.
“In short, this NPS is disappointing. It’s another example of impractical regulation that deserves debate by the political parties in the run-up to the election.”