SNAs and the pending National Policy Statement – Indigenous Biodiversity are hot talking points in agricultural circles. We thought we’d outline the background.
The issue of areas of farmland being identified as SNAs (Significant Naturals Areas) is not new. Many farmers are well aware of this being a significant challenge in many districts for close to 30 years – since the RMA (Resource Management Act) came into force.
Part 6 of the RMA lists a number of “matters of national importance” that Councils need to recognise and provide for in their plans including in section 6(c) the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna. These are commonly known and described as SNAs. This is easily confused with other matters of national importance such as the protection of the natural character of the coastal environment [6(a)] and the protection of the outstanding natural features and landscapes [6(b)] over which some landowners are also facing proposed and actual council controls.
A number of farmers in recent years have faced enforcement action for clearance of vegetation in districts where SNAs hadn’t been identified, with farmers unaware the vegetation cleared was considered threatened or significant. In response, councils were questioned on how they, or impacted farmers, could protect SNAs if they didn’t know where significant vegetation or habitat were.
In districts across NZ, landowners, district councils and environment NGOs battled over plans to give effect to these matters, including the process of determining the criteria for when something was an SNA, what the rules would look like and what restrictions farmers were facing.
NPS-IB (National Policy Statement – Indigenous Biodiversity)
A number of failed attempts were made by central government over the years to develop a national framework for determining when something should be determined an SNA and what the rules should look like. As we’re seeing again, it is a highly contentious process.
In early 2017, the then Minister for the Environment, Hon Dr Nick Smith, determined that the next attempt at an NPS-IB should involve those parties who were fighting the most on the topic. In response he set up the Biodiversity Collaborative Group [BCG]. The Group’s role was to draft a Draft NPS-IB and outline complementary and supporting measures that were needed to assist landowners and Councils. It was acknowledged agreement may not be able to be reached on some aspects.
The BCG comprised Federated Farmers & Forest and Bird (as Trustees) plus the Forest Owners Association, EDS (Environmental Defence Society), a representative of the Iwi Chairs Forum and representatives from infrastructure industries. Local and central government representatives were involved as active observers.
Federated Farmers made the decision at the time that it was better to be part of the process. This is always a difficult decision and degree of ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t’. National board member Chris Allen and Federated Farmers’ senior policy staff have been deeply involved in the process seeking workable outcomes for farmers.
The BCG took issues as far as they could with a number of areas left as ‘agree to disagree’. Throughout the process, Feds debated whether we should remain in the process. However, after seeing a Landcare Research report that ultimately recommended that to ‘protect SNAs, virtually all activities must be prohibited’ we knew we needed to stay part of the process, to ensure the farmer voice was heard, and the unworkable aspects were pushed back on.
Federated Farmers worked with others in TeamAg before and after each meeting, and consistently raised concerns over NPSIB SNA criteria throughout the process, noting that as drafted too much would be captured as an SNA, and that only the truly significant should be. The BCG released a public report in October 2018.
Complementary and Supporting Measures
The drivers for Feds throughout the process were to ensure that the SNA criteria went no further than that agreed in recently determined plans around the country; that existing use rights were protected and explicitly provided for and that a range of supportive and complementary measures were agreed. These measures would include better support for landowners and managers including rates relief, and via increased funding to the QEII Trust, Landcare Trust and the creation of a contestable national biodiversity fund established by Central Government.
Proposed (Draft) NPS-IB
In November 2018, the government released a proposed (draft) NPS for public consultation. There were a number of matters that we did not agree with including the SNA criteria, which we felt went far too far. In March 2020, Federated Farmers lodged a 208-page written submission (search ‘Biodiversity’ on the Feds website) outlining a significant number of concerns covering areas where the BCG had not been able to agree and where the proposed NPS-IB appeared inconsistent with what the BCG had recommended.
The revision of the NPS-IB is currently in government hands with no further input from the primary sector at this stage. We expect to see a further draft over the next month or two.
Bottom lines on NPS-IB
Federated Farmers of New Zealand bottom lines on the National Policy Statement – Indigenous Biodiversity:
- The NPS-IB is tenure neutral.
- SNA criteria must only capture what is truly significant.
- Existing use rights must be protected and explicitly provided for.
- That best practice engagement with landowners is ensured in the NPS. ( the RMA does not mandate good process for landowner engagement)
- That there are areas with small ratepayer bases, large geographical areas, large conservation estates that will need a nuanced approach.
- And critical to our support, that the Government actions and resources the complimentary and supporting measures – without these, the regulations would not work.
We will only support an NPS that satisfies these bottom lines.
A number of councils across the country are mid-process on identifying SNAs but these have preceded the final NPS-IB and are not in response to it. Our reason for being and staying in the BCG process was to try to steer it to a better place for landowners.