by Chris Allen, Federated Farmers environment spokesperson
In a TV One news item last Friday night about Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) a reporter said that Minister James Shaw had said Federated Farmers ‘was in support’. The impression was that we fully supported last year’s draft National Policy Statement – Indigenous Biodiversity in its entirety – and that is not the case.
A number of people contacted Federated Farmers asking us to clarify our position. The Canterbury floods then hit and our focus went on supporting those affected.
For many years Federated Farmers has been battling in district plans and in the courts on the criteria for determining SNAs and controls placed on landowners including, in some cases, total prohibition of any farming activities . Some 78% of New Zealand’s district authorities already have SNA processes in their plans. SNAs are not a new concept – being a requirement since the Resource Management Act took effect in 1991 .
Federated Farmers was one of the two trustees on the Biodiversity Collaborative Group (BCG) (along with Forest and Bird) which was set up by the National Government in 2017 to bring together the key parties that were fighting out what was an SNA on a district by district basis. One of the aims of the BCG was to establish nationally recognised criteria to determining what was truly “significant”.
Feds was a key partner in the process to ensure a farming voice was heard.
In October the BCG released its report that contained a draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) and recommendations to the Government on complementary and supporting measures to work with landowners and councils to maintain indigenous biodiversity.
This BCG approach did not achieve consensus on every aspect. BCG members were allowed to disagree via their own submission to whatever the government eventually drafted.
In late 2019 the Government released a revised NPS which unfortunately did not get the balance right between protection of indigenous biodiversity and allowing farmers to make reasonable use of their land,
Federated Farmers sought and obtained significant member input and feedback from farmer and, in early 2020, lodged a 208 page submission (read it here) raising a number of significant concerns with the proposed NPS released for submissions last year. It needs to be clear that we did not full support the NPS as written. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, then our recommendations on the first two pages nicely summarise the main points of concern.
For those that want something even shorter, I will leave you with these three points which – if they’re not included in the final NPS – we cannot support it.
- SNAs should only apply to those areas that are truly significant.
- Existing use rights must be provided for – so if you have a paddock that has been grazed for the last 30-40 years and it contains native plants, they can obviously handle grazing. Thus you should be able to continue to be able to graze that paddock.
- Finally, the government needs to come to the party where SNAs are created, and ensure that the suite of supporting and complementary measures that were key to Federated Farmers involvement, are provided – this includes things like rates relief for SNAs or QEII/Nga Whenua Rahui covenanted land, investigation the potential for carbon credits, financial assistance for some councils to undertake SNA assessments (particularly those with large geographical areas, small ratepayer bases etc) and assistance with fencing and pest control .
There is obviously a lot more to it than that, but when I think about the biodiversity existing on my farm and what are the three key things I might be worried about in a practical sense, that’s the nub of it, and that is where we stand.
Most of us take pride in the biodiversity on our farms, and in the future that biodiversity is likely to be an important selling point for many of our products offshore, and should provide us with sequestration credits to offset our GHG emissions. It was important to us that we worked proactively with government to ensure rules to protect biodiversity worked positively for our farmers and growers rather than sat back and took the rules that were given to us.
It is important to note that the NPS-IB is still in draft stage and we haven’t seen the next iteration. Processes happening around the country are not happening because of the NPS-IB, and there is some confusion around landscape processes, which are not related to SNA processes. We will shortly be seeing updates on where the draft is at and obviously will have a further chance at influencing outcomes before it is finalised.