Land report highlights issues with soil degradation

Date:  19 April 2018

An environmental report released today has found we are damaging and losing our soils and our native plants and animals.

Our land 2018 is the latest report in the environmental reporting series published by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the environmental reporting series was vital in providing a clearer picture of the state of our environment.

“These reports help us more fully understand our environment, track the positive and negative impacts of human activities over time, and identify some of the key challenges,” Ms MacPherson said.

“Important parts of the land story are missing.  There are significant gaps in our knowledge and the available data, especially integrated data at a national scale.”

Summary of the key findings from the report:

  • Our soil is affected by erosion and intensive agriculture:

    • 192 million tonnes of soil are lost every year from erosion – 44 percent of this is from pasture.

    • Soil quality testing shows 2 out of 7 indicators give reason for concern, with 48 percent of tested sites outside the target range for phosphorus content and macroporosity.

  • Nearly 83 percent of our native birds, bats, reptiles, and frogs are classified as threatened or at risk of extinction (between 2010 and 2016).

  • 20 species of birds improved their conservation status (between 2012 and 2016).

  • As well as loss of native vegetation across the country, coastal and lowland habitats continued to reduce.

  • There have been significant shifts in land use in the last two decades:

    • 10 percent increase in the total size of our towns and cities (between 1996 and 2012).

    • 42 percent increase in the area of land used for dairy, and a 20 percent decrease in area used for sheep and beef (between 2002 and 2016).

    • shift in the past 15 years to higher numbers of animals farmed per hectare, especially in dairy.

    • net loss of 71,000 hectares of native land cover (between 1996 and 2012).

    • 7 percent decrease in total area of land in agricultural production (between 2002 and 2012).

“The report makes it clear that we need to pay attention to what’s going on in our soil, which underpins our economy. It shows us where we need to focus,” Penny Nelson, Deputy Secretary at the Ministry for the Environment said.

 “This report also reinforces that our land-use decisions are putting our environment under pressure. What we do on our land has effects across our environment and economy. It affects our water quality, the marine environment, and the volume of greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms Nelson said.

“This is the first time in this reporting series that land has been in the spotlight. While Our land 2018 lays a great foundation and has a really sound basis for the conclusions it makes, it’s also clear that there’s still much more we need to find out about land for future reports,” Ms MacPherson said.

“Without more up-to-date information on land cover, land use, erosion, soil, and ecosystem health, we cannot fully understand the extent of pressures, the rate of change, or what impacts changes in soil and biodiversity are having on our social, cultural, economic, and environmental well-being.  That’s an issue we and the Ministry for the Environment, along with others, will actively address,” Ms MacPherson said.

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