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Society's responses to pressures on our land environment

The environmental impacts of land use are controlled through a combination of laws and voluntary initiatives mostly implemented by local authorities and the resource users themselves. Central Government maintains a supervisory role, with the power, where necessary, to impose national policies, environ-mental standards, or protection orders, or to provide funding for protection or sustainable management projects.

The Government also has direct management responsibility for 8.1 million hectares of stateowned conservation land and 2.5 million hectares of pastoral lease land, plus about 300,000 hectares of exotic and indigenous production forest.

The key new laws governing land management are:

  • the Conservation Act 1987 which operates in conjunction with several other acts (e.g. the National Parks Act 1980, Reserves Act 1977 and the Wildlife Act 1953) and charges the Department of Conservation with directly protecting the natural environment on some 30 percent of the land area, and with advocating its protection elsewhere;
  • the Resource Management Act 1991, under which local authorities have, among other things, a responsibility to:
    • ensure that land resources are sustained for future generations and that the life-supporting capacity of ecosystems and soils is protected;
    • provide for the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development;
    • provide for the protection of areas of significant vegetation and habitat; and
    • have particular regard to amenity values, intrinsic ecosystem values and the maintenance and enhancement of environmental quality.
  • the indigenous forests provisions of the Forests Act 1949 (Part IIIA), as amended by the Forest Amendment Act 1993, which require that indigenous timber production be from sustainably managed forests;
  • the Biosecurity Act 1993, which sets out a process for establishing legally enforceable pest management strategies at national or local levels;
  • the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, which sets up a new agency, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), to assess hazardous substances and new organisms, including genetically modified organisms, before they are manufactured, developed, imported or released into the New Zealand environment, and to establish safeguards for their use;
  • the Agricultural Compounds Bill, which will control the use of pesticides in farming and horticulture; and
  • the Crown Pastoral Land Bill, now before Parliament, which will amend the tenure and management provisions of the Land Act 1948, enabling the sale of leasehold tussock land in exchange for better protection of areas that still have some conservation value.

In addition to these statutory measures, the responses to land problems also include a considerable amount of collaborative and advisory work by government departments, local authorities, Crown Research Institutes, environmental organisations and forestry and farming organisations. The combination of statutory and voluntary measures has produced the following responses tovegetation change, land-use pressures, and pests and weeds.

Responses to vegetation change

During the course of New Zealand's economic development, most of the useful land has undergone dramatic vegetation change. National parks and reserves are generally confined to remote mountainous areas or islands and so are not fully representative of the nation's natural vegetation and landscape diversity.

The Protected Natural Areas (PNA) Programme was initiated in the early 1980s, by the Biological Resources Centre (BRC) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in order to help represent the full range of indigenous biodiversity in New Zealand, through a formal programme of ecological surveys and evaluation (Simpson, 1982; Park et al., 1987). The Programme uses a framework of 268 ecological districts, which was also developed by the BRC, as a basis for identifying the best remaining representative areas for protection (RAPs).

The PNA Programme is now co-ordinated by the Department of Conservation. Surveys are increasingly carried out in collaboration with district councils, some of whom use the survey results when preparing district plans.

Since its inception in the early 1980s, over 60 ecological districts which span over 9,000,000 hectares have been surveyed and described in survey reports. In 1996/97, the PNA Programme supported ecological survey work and report writing in 20 ecological districts. More than 80 RAPs have been added to the network of protected natural areas in New Zealand, but many types of natural ecosystem are still not adequately represented.

Many remaining natural areas are in poor condition, and need to be restored in order to ensure their viability. Landcare Research, supported by the Public Good Science Fund, has recently begun a programme of research into ecological restoration, particularly in lowland and peri-urban areas where some of the greatest vegetation change has already occurred. Similar research by NIWA, on restoring riparian vegetation, has resulted in the Department of Conservation publishing guidelines for the planting and management of native vegetation on stream and river banks. It is hoped that such research may assist regional and territorial authorities to actually start reversing the process of ecosystem loss.

Maintaining forests

About 77 percent (4.8 million hectares) of New Zealand's surviving indigenous forests are in national parks and reserves managed for ecological and recreational purposes by the Department of Conservation. A further 3 percent (about 200,000 hectares) have been voluntarily protected or committed for protection by private owners who have offered them for sale to the Department of Conservation or have attached legal covenants to the titles. The covenants may last from 20 years to perpetuity. These voluntary protection arrangements are funded by:

  • the Forest Heritage Fund, which was established by the Government in 1990. By mid-1996 it had achieved protection, and commitments to protect, some 96,000 hectares, with an annual budget of $45 million;
  • Nga Whenua Rahui, which was established in 1990 for use by Māori forest landowners. By August 1996 it had achieved protection, and commitments to protect, some 76,000 hectares, with an annual budget of $2-3 million; and
  • the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, which was established in 1977 with funding from both government and nongovernment sources. By mid-1996 it had achieved protection for about 37,000 hectares of 'open space', much of it forest land, and commitments to protect a further 62,000 hectares. Funding for some of this came from the Forest Heritage Fund and so is double-counted.

Up to 10 percent (650,000 hectares) of the nation's indigenous forests may be subject to regional council rules governing forest clearance on erosion-prone slopes. These rules can be imposed under the Resource Management Act wherever a council decides that the adverse effects of an activity may threaten the life supporting capacity of soil. Local authorities are also required to sustain other ecosystem attributes (e.g. life-supporting capacity, significant habitat, and intrinsic values, which include biological diversity). Generally clearance on private land is permitted, subject to environmental safeguards which vary widely from region to region.

The remaining 10 percent of indigenous forests are not in reserves or on erodible slopes but are still subject to controls of one sort or another. These forests include 164,000 hectares of governmentowned production forests in the South Island and approximately 500,000 hectares of privately-owned forests.

Though legally available for logging, about 80 percent of the privately owned forests are unsuitable for timber production at present because they are regenerating from previous felling. The controls which apply to these forests are:

  • local authority rules under the Resource Management Act which determine whether felling or clearing is a permitted activity;
  • the indigenous forests provisions of the Forests Act 1949 which require most private indigenous timber and woodchip production to be harvested under either an approved sustainable forest management plan or a permit;
  • export controls on indigenous logs, woodchips and sawn timber; and
  • management agreements in which the Government, as owner, defines the conditions under which its 164,000 hectares of indigenous production forests are to be managed.

The precise area of potentially loggable forest covered by local authority rules is not known. The Resource Management Act generally takes a permissive attitude to land use unless identifiable adverse effects can be demonstrated. Local authorities may restrict forestfelling to prevent adverse effects on soil, water, ecosystem functioning, landscapes or significant vegetation and animal habitats. Most authorities, however, have tended to leave native forest protection to the Department of Conservation, the voluntary protection funding authorities and the Forests Act.

In cases where the local authority allows indigenous forests to be felled, the new provisions of the Forests Act 1949 apply. The Act does not prevent forests being felled, but it does prevent their timber being sold to a sawmill or chipmill if the felling was not done under a sustainable forest management plan or permit. Sustainable forest management is defined as "the management of an area of forest land in a way that maintains the ability of the forest growing on that land to continue to provide a full range of products and amenities in perpetuity while retaining the forest's natural values."

A set of harvesting prescriptions for low impact logging is contained in the Act along with export prohibitions on indigenous logs, woodchips and timber (except for sawn beech and rimu, finished or manufactured products, personal effects, and salvaged or sustainably managed stumps, roots and tree fern trunks). The Act applies to all private land except for some 57,000 hectares (containing about 35,000 hectares of forest), mostly in Southland, which were granted to dispossessed Māori families under the South Island Landless Māoris Act 1906. The inclusion of this area into the Forests Act provisions is currently under negotiation. Also exempt from the Act are 152,000 hectares of governmentowned production forest on the West Coast which are subject to a separate management agreement. The Ministry of Forestry administers the Act at a cost of $1.2 million in 1994/95.

The export controls contained in the Act are similar to those contained in Customs regulations which preceded the Act and are still in force. One difference, however, is that the Customs regulations do not exempt the South Island Landless Māoris Act forests, so the Customs Minister's permission is required to export native beech woodchips from these forests. From 1990 to 1995, two woodchip shipments a year have been authorised, involving the clearfelling of about 300 hectares annually. In 1996, however, the Government decided to stop further shipments and negotiate a settlement with the affected landowners and sawmillers.

The Government has signed management agreements covering the stateowned production forests with the Forestry Corporation, which manages 12,000 hectares in Southland, and Timberlands West Coast Ltd, which manages 152,000 hectares in various parts of the South Island's West Coast. The Timberlands agreement is based on the controversial West Coast Accord.

The West Coast Accord was signed in 1987 by sawmillers, three environmental organisations, and the Government, following agreement on the allocation and use of forests formerly managed by the Forest Service. The Accord parties agreed on: the areas to be set aside for protection (including the Paparoa National Park); the areas that would be available for continued clearfelling and for how long; and the areas that would be managed for "sustained yield" production, including a beech scheme. The areas designated for clearfelling and sustained yield timber production were explicitly exempted from the 1993 amendment to the Forests Act so that these Accord commitments could be met.

Two other accords affecting native forests are the Tasman Accord and the New Zealand Forest Accord. The Tasman Accord was signed in 1989 by Tasman Forestry Ltd, environmental groups and the Government. In it, the company agreed to end native forest clearance on its land, protect some 39,000 hectares, and assist with the recovery programme for a threatened native bird, the kokako, as well as other conservation projects.

The New Zealand Forest Accord was signed in 1991 between forestry and timber industry representatives and environmental organisations. The signatories agreed that plantation forests provide an alternative to the depletion of natural forests, and that the forestry industry would refrain from clearing native vegetation over "any area greater than five hectares, areas greater than one hectare which have an average canopy height of more than six metres, and areas which have been or might be recommended for protection under the Protected Natural Areas Programme or as a Site of Special Wildlife Interest."

These measures cover most areas of natural forest, though instances still occur of forest and scrub clearance by farmers and others. The main threat to all native forest, however, is the sustained assault from pests and weeds, especially the impacts of goats and possums and of smothering plants like old man's beard. Pest control in indigenous forests is largely the responsibility of land owners and, on conservation land, the Department of Conservation (see below).

Box 8.9: Historical responses to land problems

Both traditional Māori society and modern New Zealand society were slow to develop sustainable land use practices. When environmental limits brought the period of Māori expansion to an end, some time after 1550, fortified settlements were built to defend territories of now scarce resources. Rules and customs evolved to control access to, and exploitation of, treasured and rare resources. Some resources became sacred or offlimits (tapu). Others became subject to temporary bans (rahui). Most tribes developed customary forms of harvesting (kaitiakitanga) based on traditional, often secret, knowledge of the plants and animals within their territories (matauranga). These customary rules should not be confused with the modern conservation ethic of protecting species and ecosystems for their own sakes. The Māori attitude was that natural resources were there to be used (King, 1984; O'Regan, 1994).

Rules to safeguard forest resources were probably most developed where communities were highly dependent on forests, such as in the Urewera mountains (Best, 1942). In other areas, where communities were more dependent on gardens and seafood, different priorities and rules applied (Davidson, 1984). Fortunately, New Zealand was large enough for Māori communities to take their time adjusting. In some other parts of the Pacific, island populations were decimated by warfare or forced to emigrate following the destruction of their forests and large prey animals (Diamond, 1991, 1995; Flannery, 1994).

Scrub burning by Māori communities was widespread when Europeans reached New Zealand, but the burning of mature forest had mostly ceased. This changed when the sudden arrival of European technologies, plants, animals and markets from the late 1700s on triggered a second expansionist phase. More forest was cleared for potato gardens, which were always situated on newly-cleared forest margins (Cameron, 1964). Māori entrepreneurs developed a thriving agricultural trade with Australia and California (O'Connor, 1993). The process of change was accelerated after 1850 by largescale immigration from Europe. The new settlers had a single aim: to subdue the forest and make the soil economically productive. This view was reflected by successive governments whose overriding goal was to turn as much of New Zealand into farmland as possible. Through various land and settlement acts, immigration schemes and land grants, they assisted thousands of settlers onto land.

The environmental effects of farm development were protested by a small number of Europeans and by Māori tribes who saw their traditional resources and sacred sites being destroyed. Generally these voices were ignored. A controversial Forests Act was passed in 1874 to slow the destruction but was widely seen as an obstacle to economic growth, and was subsequently repealed. The Land Act of 1877 was more successful in securing protection for steepland forest to prevent erosion and flooding. Various acts and amendments were also passed establishing rabbit control boards, river control boards, drainage boards, and security of tenure on pastoral land. Deforestation increased in the second half of the century as the mushrooming European population established farms and settlements. Expansion continued until, by 1920, virtually all usable land was fully occupied and the area of loggable native forest had been so reduced that timber shortages were predicted 30 years hence. Erosion and declining crops and pasture had become severe in some areas, particularly in some North Island hill country and some South Island tussock country.

Unable to increase production by simply felling more trees and expanding the area of occupied land, agriculture moved from an 'expansionist' era into an 'intensification' era (Roche, 1994). Successive governments began to encourage more intensive production on the land which was already occupied. To achieve this farmers needed better crop, grass and livestock strains, improved soil fertility, and better protection from hazards, such as erosion, floods and droughts, and from pests and weeds. In the 1920s, the Government established the State Forest Service, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Fields Division of the Department of Agriculture. It also passed the first of several Town Planning Acts which aimed to limit urban sprawl into farmland by requiring councils to prepare town plans.

Science, technology, new legislation and government funds were increasingly channelled into extracting higher crop and stock yields, controlling floods and erosion, combating pests and weeds, installing irrigation systems, and establishing short rotation exotic forests on land unsuitable for farming. Government scientists and advisers began evaluating fertilisers for different kinds of soils, breeding and testing new strains of legumes and grasses, and improving crop and pasture management. Animal research focused on improving animal health and the conversion of grass to meat, milk and wool. Over several decades, surveys of soil were undertaken and a land use capability classification was developed.

From the 1920s, for the next 50 years agricultural growth was mostly achieved by increasing the numbers of livestock and the yields per hectare, rather than increasing the area. Intensification began in the more fertile plains and valleys of the North Island, then spread in the 1930s to the Northland gumfields and the lowlands of the eastern South Island. The hill country and steeplands had to wait until the late 1940s and the development of aerial topdressing, bulldozers and fourwheeldrive vehicles. Aircraft were also used to spread the newly developed organochlorine pesticides (e.g. DDT) over large areas of hilly farmland to control grassgrub and porina.

In 1941 the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act was passed to achieve coordinated flood and erosion control within catchments (McCaskill, 1973; Poole, 1983; Roche, 1994). The Act set up a national council and a number of local catchment control bodies (variously called Boards, Commissions, or Authorities) whose members were either elected locally or appointed by the Government, and whose funds came from rates and government subsidies allocated through the national council. The catchment authorities employed soil conservators whose role was to assess erosion on farms and develop ways of reducing it. The catchment authorities also embarked on drainage and river control schemes (channels, stopbanks etc.) with the technical assistance of the Water and Soil Division of the Ministry of Works and Development.

This modernisation and intensification of farming and exotic forestry led to spectacular increases in productivity from the 1940s to the 1960s and to a large migration of surplus labour from the mechanising farms into rural towns, and, from there, into the cities. In the 1970s, however, export returns from sheep products in particular began to decline as a consequence of falling commodity prices, rising transport costs, and declining access to traditional markets (i.e. Britain). The government of the day responded by subsidising farmers to boost stock numbers and clear more marginal land for farming, putting more pressure on soils and native vegetation.

These measures ceased in the economic and institutional restructuring of the mid1980s. Intensification of farming was still the aim of agricultural policy, but with much greater emphasis on product quality, diversity and marketing. Market forces were seen as a more efficient means of achieving this than government assistance. Advisory services were corporatised or privatised, as were the research organisations. Subsidies were ended for most agricultural activities. Cutting rights to the government's exotic forests were sold. Income taxes were reduced, a goods and services tax introduced and protective tariffs reduced. As a result of these reforms, landbased producers are now much more exposed to local and international market forces, and are investing more in horticulture, farm forestry and dairy farming and less in traditional sheep and beef farming.

In this market-driven climate, sustainable land management is to be achieved through individuals taking responsibility for the long-term effects of land use under the watchful eyes of their community and regional and district councils. Under the Resource Management Act 1991, which replaced the previous planning and soil legislation, these local bodies are now responsible for ensuring that natural and physical resources, including ecosystems and biodiversity, are managed sustainably. Although central government financial support for farmers has largely ended, many councils operate extension advisory services and provide financial assistance for farm-based erosion control schemes. Where necessary to achieve sustainability, community rules and constraints on land use can be imposed through the councils' policies and plans drawn up under the Resource Management Act.

Maintaining tussock lands

The pastoral leases under which most of the remaining tussock grasslands are managed, are issued subject to the Land Act 1948. The leases cover 2.45 million hectares of tussock land. Only about 2 percent of the tussock grasslands (about 72,000 hectares) are on Department of Conservation land, though the conservation lands also include approximately 650,000 hectares of mixed subalpine tussock and scrub as well as other areas where tussock grows in association with forest, scrub, and exotic grass species.

Since 1991 the Commissioner of Crown Lands (located in the government Ministry, Land Information New Zealand) has been negotiating land swaps with pastoral leaseholders, enabling them to become freehold private owners of farmland while transferring land with high conservation values to the Department of Conservation. This is carried out under an administrative tenure review process. The process will be refined and given a statutory framework under the Crown Pastoral Land Bill which will amend the Land Act. The Bill was drafted following a recommendation by the Working Party on Sustainable Land Management (1994) that the legislation be reviewed "with the objective of freeholding all the land not required by the Crown for the public interest". The recommendation follows successive initiatives over a period of 15 years to amend the Act.

The presumption is that freehold ownership will motivate the leaseholders (approximately 340) to make more sustainable use of land which has become degraded under the leasehold tenure. Diversified and imaginative land uses are envisaged, as owners move away from pastoral farming to take up viticulture, forestry, arable agriculture, horticulture and tourism. Simultaneously with the tenure review process, the Department of Conservation is charged with identifying areas of high conservation and public interest values. The Commissioner of Crown Lands then negotiates with land users for return to full Crown ownership of these areas.

At the request of the lessees, areas in need of protection for nature conservation or for public access and recreation are being identified by surveys of pastoral leases. Some areas had already been identified through previous Protected Natural Area (PNA) Programme surveys. Protection mechanisms can include covenants or transfer of land to the Department of Conservation.

In addition to these arrangements, the Resource Management Act prescribes a role for local authorities in preventing environmentally harmful vegetation change in the tussock lands. Several regional councils require land users to obtain a permit before burning vegetation, including tussock. Permits are generally approved subject to environmental conditions.

Maintaining dunelands

Few dunelands have formal protection, but all coastal areas are required to be managed sustainably under the Resource Management Act. The Minister of Conservation and regional councils share responsibility for managing the coastal marine areathe land and water below high tide. The Minister's roles are to issue consents for 'restricted coastal activities' (i.e. activities in sensitive locations or having significant impacts below high tide) and to produce the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which sets out conservation priorities, protected areas, and prohibited activities around the coast. Among the information sources for the Coastal Policy Statement was the national duneland survey which recommended 53 dunelands for national protection and approximately 150 other dunelands for regional conservation measures (Johnson, 1992; Partridge, 1992). The Coastal Policy Statement can also set out policies for the zone above high tide between land and sea. Responsibility for carrying out the policies in this zone rests with territorial authorities.

The role of local authorities under the Act is to use their polices and plans, where appropriate, to preserve "the natural character of the coastal environment" and protect it from "inappropriate subdivision, use, and development". In doing this they must not conflict with the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.

A number of local authorities have adopted the New South Wales concept of involving community groups in 'coast care' (or 'beach care' or 'dune care') programmes (Hamilton, 1996). Coast care programmes have been established in Auckland, Waikato/Coromandel, Hawke's Bay, Christchurch and the Bay of Plenty. The volunteer groups, which mostly involve older residents rather than young people and summer visitors, undertake such tasks as identifying weeds and ways to control them, protecting dunes with access ways, fences and sand ladders, planting native plants on foredunes, educating schoolchildren and the general public, and lobbying for council support through annual plans.

Another voluntary initiative that has some relevance to duneland protection is the New Zealand Forest Accord, the agreement between environmentalists and the forestry industry which commits the signatories not to plant exotic forests in areas recommended for protection by the PNA Programme.

Maintaining shrublands

No national measures exist specifically for the protection of shrublands, though, like other ecosystems and habitats, these are covered by the Resource Management Act. Some shrublands are protected by virtue of being on Department of Conservation land, while others have been recommended for protection by the PNA Programme. Some shrublands have also been set aside in small private reserves, including a number supported by the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust.

The New Zealand Forest Accord also provides a measure of protection to shrublands, though many land owners are not parties to the Accord. The first public test of the Accord came with the East Coast Forestry Project (see below). New planting was temporarily stalled by a disagreement between the forestry companies that had signed the Accord and some landowners who proposed to replace kanuka and manuka shrublands with pine forest. On many of the farms where shrublands occur, the main threats are from browsing by goats, trampling by cattle and clearance for pasture by the land owner. The felling of kanuka and manuka for firewood is also widespread.

Responses to land-use pressures

In many areas where native vegetation has been removed, unsustainable land-use pressures are damaging soil, water, crops, pasture and adjacent native vegetation and habitat. In the past, the Government assumed much of the financial responsibility for dealing with the damage, but did little to actually change land use practices. It is now thought that government production subsidies and drought and flood relief may have encouraged unsustainable land use practices by allowing land users to reap the rewards of damaging activities without having to bear the full costs of the damage.

Since 1984, the broad philosophy of the Government has been to abolish production subsidies and put more responsibility on farmers and other land users to improve their land management practices. To ensure that marketdriven production does not have the same environmentally damaging effects as subsidydriven production, land use, like other forms of resource use, is subject to the Resource Management Act and the requirements of regional policy statements and regional and district plans.

The policy also presumes that land users should not be subsidised to meet environmental standards, except where action is urgently required and beyond the resources of the individual land user. As a consequence, land management subsidies to farmers and foresters are now limited to a diminishing number of regional council programmes for soil conservation and pest control, a special central government-funded programme to arrest severe erosion in the North Island's East Coast, and a recently concluded programme to combat rabbits and weeds in the South Island high country (see Figure 8.11).

Government expenditure on disaster relief for farmers has also been reduced. In the past, the ready availability of disaster relief for flood or drought damage often allowed farmers to safely pursue high risk practices, such as overstocking and devegetation of erodible land. Now, landholders are encouraged to manage their land more carefully to minimise the damage from climatic hazards. Relief payments have declined from an average of $24.6 million per year in the late 1980s to $5.6 million in 1992/93 and only $574,000 in 1994/95 (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 1995).

While local authorities are charged with developing the policies, plans and rules for sustainable land management within their regions and districts, central government, through the Ministry for the Environment, has overall responsibility for the administration of the Resource Management Act. For land use problems of national significance, the Minister for the Environment has several options to secure national objectives, such as:

  • making submissions to councils and the Environment Court (as can all Ministers) during the regional and district planning process in the hope that the national view will be included in policies and plans;
  • publishing guidelines or mandatory environmental standards (e.g. on contamination levels, water pollution,);
  • imposing policies through National Policy Statements; and
  • providing sustainable management funds to encourage authorities or land users to adopt measures that are in the national interest.
Figure 8.11: Expenditure on soil conservation and land sustainability programmes by nine regional councils
Textual description of figure 8.

Expenditure on soil conservation and land sustainability by nine regional councils (Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Southland) peaked in 1991/92. Gisbourne had the highest expenditure in 1991/92 of about $10,000. Expenditure on soil conservation and land sustainability by the nine regional councils reduced to to their lowest levels in 1993/94. In 1995/96 total expenditure increased slightly from 1993/4 levels.

A number of government agencies also work on land management projects with scientists, local authorities, Māori tribes, farmers and foresters to foster sustainable practices and pest control. Net government expenditure on these agri-environmental programmes in 1994/95 was estimated at $227 million (see Table 8.15).

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for coordinating these disparate activities through the Government's Sustainable Land Management Strategy (SLMS). Under the strategy, sustainable land management is promoted by providing direct help to land-users and by improving research, coordination, and other support. The strategy's main initiatives are:

  • giving financial support to the New Zealand Landcare Trust to train a national network of landcare and community group facilitators and help set up landcare groups;
  • helping prepare best management practice guidelines for land users;
  • establishing a National Science Strategy Committee to advise Government and, where possible, coordinate sustainable land management research;
  • developing standards and/or guidelines for sustaining water and soil quality;
  • promoting voluntary and market incentives for sustainable management; and
  • developing national and on-site indicators of sustainable land management.

The Ministry is also running several projects which relate to sustainable land management. These include:

  • the development of a national set of environmental indicators;
  • the development of a Waste Management Strategy and Waste Management Protocol to guide councils in the disposal and monitoring of solid waste; and
  • the development (with the Ministry of Health) of guidelines on acceptable levels of soil contamination and of criteria and standards for disposing of persistent organochlorines.

In addition to these activities, the Ministry for the Environment also manages the Sustainable Management Fund (SMF), which provides money for a broad range of environmental activities, including industry-based sustainable land management initiatives. The SMF was established in July 1995. Prior to this two other programmes (catchment grants and resource management subsidies) funded regional council flood protection and soil conservation works along with other resource management activities. The annual allocation to the combined programmes declined from more than $40 million in the late 1980s to just under $10 million in 1994/95. The amount spent on flood protection and soil conservation fell from nearly $39 million to $4 million (for the completion of one remaining flood protection scheme), while the amount spent on environmental activities has stayed constant at around $5 million since the passing of the Resource Management Act in 1991. The reduction in central government funding reflects the completion of the transfer of many resource management responsibilities from central to local government. In the 1970s and 1980s, although local government had key responsibilities, substantial funding came from central government. This affected local decision making.

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology is responsible for administering the National Science Strategy for Sustainable Land Management which identifies the main research priorities. This enables better coordination of research and more effective targeting of the Government's Public Good Science Fund, which, since July 1990, has been the main source of central government funding for research (see Table 8.16). It is administered by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. Government funding for research on sustainable land management is also channeled through universities, government departments and government trusts, and was $78.8 million in 1994/95 (Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, 1995).

The Ministry of Agriculture runs the Sustainable Agriculture Facilitation Programme which was set up after the release of a Government position paper on sustainable agriculture in 1993 (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 1993b). Through the programme, the Ministry disseminates information and cooperates with land users, other central and local government agencies and other interested parties to maintain and enhance the sustainability of New Zealand agriculture. The 1994/95 budget for the programme was around $550,000.

The Ministry of Agriculture also provides technical and administrative support to the Pesticides Board and the Animal Health Board which each have the job of assessing and regulating the harmful effects of newly registered compounds. Of their $1.8 million budget, approximately $1.6 million is recovered in fees.

The South Island High Country Review (known as the Martin Report) was conducted by the Working Party on Sustainable Land Management. The Working Party was established by the Ministers of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment to "identify ways in which a coordinated approach to dealing with high country land management issues could be tackled after the end of the fiveyear Rabbit and Land Management Programme" (Working Party on Sustainable Land Management, 1994).

The review recommended, among other things, that the Land Act be amended to incorporate sustainable management concepts and to strengthen land user incentives. It also recommended that areas of conservation importance be identified by the Department of Conservation and targeted for protection, and that areas of no conservation importance be sold to the lease holders. The Crown Pastoral Land Bill is a result of these recommendations.

Table 8.15: Estimated agri-environmental expenditure, 1994-95 ($NZ million).
  Budget (excluding GST) Share attributed to agriculture Environmental protection Agricultural protection
National programmes 151 108 45 63
Regional programmes 158 71-102 15-29 56-73
Less R. M. Grants1 (9) (6) (2) (4)
Total expenditure2 300 173-204 57-72 116-132
Less user payments3 (73) (42-56) (3-7) (39-49)
Net expenditure 227 131-148 54-65 77-83

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (1995)

1 Resource Management Grants are transfers from central to local government and are included in both categories of expenditure. They have been subtracted to avoid double counting.

2 Numbers have been rounded and do not always match totals.

3 These are payments for pest control on government land ($5.4 million) plus payments to regional councils by programme users or beneficiaries ($68 million).

Table 8.16: Public funding for research on sustainable land management in 1993-94 ($NZ million).
Sources of funding Directly related to sustainable land management Indirectly related to sustainable land management1 Total funding
Central Government 61.3 41.4 102.7
Public Good Science Fund2 39.0 34.8 73.8
Universities3 19.6 7.9 27.5
Government Trusts4 0.7 0.7 1.4
Government Departments5 2.0 - 2.0
Regional Councils 2.0 1.5 3.5
Total 63.3 42.9 106.2

Source: Ministry of Agriculture (1995)

1 This includes relevant primary research (e.g. on plant taxonomy or the geological factors affecting soil formation) and remedial research (e.g. on pollution control technologies).

2 Includes non-specific output funding of $6.5 million.

3 Based on the number of fulltime equivalents doing research, assuming a marginal cost per FTE of $60,000, using information from the 1991/92 Benchmark Review.

4 Agriculture and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) and the Lotteries Board.

5 Departments with operational research funding for sustainable land management, in declining order, included the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Forestry, and the Department of Survey and Land Information.

The Ministry of Forestry has a special unit devoted to the sustainable management of native forests, with a budget of some $1.2 million in 1994/95. The Ministry also coordinates the East Coast Forestry Project which subsidises the planting of forests over some 200,000 hectares of erodible hill pasture in the Gisborne region. The project, which will run until the year 2020, was established in 1992 "to promote large scale commercial forestry as a means of controlling soil erosion and providing employment and regional development and to recognise environmental needs on individual properties" (Ministry of Forestry, 1994b). The 1994/95 budget for the programme was around $2.9 million (including GST).

The Department of Conservation has responsibility for preparing Regional Conservation Management Strategies and coordinating the development of the National Biodiversity Strategy part of which are concerned with developing more biodiversity friendly forms of farming to reduce the threats to indigenous species from fragmented habitat, wandering livestock, pastoral runoff and pests and weeds. The Department's Protected Natural Areas Programme and New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement also contribute to this process.

At the local level, where most of the responsibility for sustainable land management lies, the responses of local authorities and land users are guided by the Regional Policy Statements with, in some cases, coordination and guidelines from central government. These responses include the development of regional and district plans and enforcement of rules for land use, monitoring of the environment and the provision of services and advice concerning waste disposal, soil conservation activities and pest and weed control. In 1994/95 regional councils spent about $68 million on resource policy and planning, monitoring and enforcement, and administration of permits.

Regional council programmes providing technical advice on soil conservation and other environmental issues have taken on a renewed importance with the reduction in grants from central government. In many councils, officials assist land users to develop property management plans dealing with soil conservation and other environmental problems on the farm. In some cases, farm plans have been developed which include protection covenants on natural forest or other significant natural features on their properties. Some councils charge for this service to recover some of their costs, while others provide free advice. Several councils have ratepayer funded programmes to assist with soil conservation and sustainable land management activities. The combined cost of these extension programmes in 1994/95 came to about $9 million.

The present extent and effectiveness of the soil conservation programmes is not known but surveys of North Island hill farms between 1989 and 1992 found that although erosion control measures were in use on two-thirds of the erodible land they were only applied effectively on less than one-third (Clough and Hicks, 1992).

New Zealand has no legislation devoted specifically to contaminated sites, but government policy on this topic is being developed within the context of:

  • the Resource Management Act 1991, which requires resource consents for waste emissions;
  • guidelines that are being prepared for each industrial sector on the assessment and management of contaminated sites;
  • a regulatory system which is being developed to record site contamination information so that landowners can choose land uses that are appropriate;
  • legal and policy decisions on who has liability for contaminated sites and the funding of clean ups;
  • the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act which sets performance standards for the future handling and use of hazardous chemicals; and
  • environmental management systems developed by industry, including codes of practice, waste minimisation initiatives, and the chemical industry's Responsible Care Programme which was launched in 1991.

A three-year Organochlorines Programme is being run by the Ministry for the Environment to assess contamination levels and develop environmental standards and guidelines for the management of contaminated sites. Several regional councils have initiated collection programmes for unwanted chemicals to reduce the risk of accidental contamination from improper and prolonged storage. Most councils have focused on agricultural chemicals, but have accepted unwanted chemicals from other sectors as well. In 1994/95 regional councils spent approximately $900,000 on this activity, mostly funded from the Minister for the Environment's Sustainable Management Fund. The councils were also provided with money to investigate the extent of contaminated soil and water in urban areas that were formerly occupied by sawmills, timber treatment sites, oil installations or gas works. The investigations are revealing a small number of seriously contaminated sites. Responsibility for the remediation of these sites is currently under discussion.

At the community and industry level, land users have become increasingly involved in promoting sustainable land management. For example, the New Zealand Forest Code of Practice was developed by the Logging Industry Research Association in 1991 to provide guidance on the following elements of sustainability: commercial values, soil and water values, scenic values, cultural values, recreational values, scientific and ecological values, forest health, site productivity, off-site impacts and safety. The code has been adopted by most of the larger forest companies.

About 55 'landcare' groups (variously called farmcare, watercare, landcare, land management and community resource groups) have been established by farmers in East Coast North Island districts and parts of the pastoral high country of the South Island. The aim of these groups is to collectively deal with land management problems such as erosion, flooding, irrigation, pests and weed control, and also more conventional concerns relating to livestock and financial performance.

Through these groups, farmers are showing a new interest in soil and vegetation monitoring and a greater willingness to resolve the problems themselves. Regional councils provide the groups with advice and some funding (estimated at around $200,000 in 1994/95). In several parts of the country, Federated Farmers branches are actively involved with local councils in encouraging the formation of landcare groups and are promoting projects to establish farm-based indicators of sustainable land management.

The dairy industry is developing an environmental strategy to address the impacts of the industry. An industry committee is working closely with farmers, processors and marketers to be pro-active and deal with environmental issues before problems arise. The Meat Development Research Cooperation's network of focus farms includes an emphasis on sustainable management, and the Rural Futures Trust has promoted decision-support computer systems and ecologically-based condition assessment models as tools for better farm management.

Responses to pests and weeds

The two main arenas of pest and weed control are on farms and on conservation land. The pest problems differ markedly in these two arenas. Livestock are pests on conservation land, while some native insects are pests on farmland. Introduced plants are weeds in nature reserves, and regenerating native trees are weeds on farmland. Some species, however, are pests in both arenas (e.g. possums, hawkweeds). The Department of Conservation's response to pests and weeds is described in Chapter 9.

Apart from the efforts of individual landowners, most agricultural pest control is carried out by regional councils and is funded from regional property taxes and special assessments on those benefiting from the control operations. Although some central and local government funding for pest control operations continues (primarily for the control of possums and their spread of bovine Tb), landowners are expected to contribute a greater share in the future (e.g. through levies). In 1994/95 regional councils spent almost $40 million on pest control and the Ministry of Agriculture spent just over $10 million. About $13 million of this went to the Animal Health Board which also received a further $18 million in levies from the agricultural industry (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 1995).

Where individual landowners, councils or other organisations are unable to get cooperation from others in controlling a pest, they may propose a Pest Management Strategy under the Biosecurity Act 1993. This Act is the main law dealing with pest control operations, though several other laws apply to pest control (i.e. Conservation Act 1987, Wild Animal Control Act 1977, Wildlife Act 1953 and Forests Act 1949). The Biosecurity Act replaces the Agricultural Pest Destruction Act 1967 and the Noxious Plants Act 1978. Under the Act, any pest management strategy must be run by a specified pest management agency, which can be a government department, a regional or district council, or a private organisation.

Once a strategy is approved (either by the Government, for national strategies, or a regional council for regional ones) the agency is empowered to enter premises, seize risk goods, declare a place restricted and direct the occupier of a place to eradicate a pest (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 1994). Central government funding for any pest management strategy depends on the extent to which the particular pest is seen as injurious to the 'public good.' A national pest management strategy has been approved for bovine tuberculosis (Tb), with the Animal Health Board as the responsible agency. This requires it to place controls on stock movement in Tb infected areas and to manage possums and the other feral mammals which transmit Tb. Possums are also the main pest targeted by the Department of Conservation on conservation land.

Rabbit control is mainly a problem in the South Island high country. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry for the Environment were jointly responsible for the Rabbit and Land Management Programme, which ran from 1989 to 1995. The programme reduced rabbit populations over nearly 300,000 hectares of badly infested tussock land. Vegetation cover increased from less than 50 percent in 1990/91 to over 60 percent in 1993/94 (Working Party on Sustainable Land Management, 1994). Central government funding for the programme averaged $3.5 million per year over five years. This covered half the programme's costs, while roughly 25 percent each came from regional councils and participating farmers. Participating farmers had to develop property management plans covering the factors that affect soil, vegetation and livestock and the economic and social factors affecting farm sustainablility.

Despite the programme's success in reducing pest problems and increasing farmer involvement in sustainable land management, the desire for a "quick fix" biocontrol solution to the rabbit problem is still strong. In the past, the only candidate, myxomatosis, was rejected because it causes unacceptable animal suffering and may also pose a risk to indigenous species, but attention has now turned to more humane viruses, such as the haemorrhagic calicivirus and the contraceptive myxoma virus.

Scientific research on pest distribution and control methods is undertaken by a number of Crown Research Institutes and universities, with funding mostly from the Public Good Science Fund and industry sources. However, pest and disease surveillance is still partly a central government responsibility. The Ministry of Agriculture monitors domestic animal and plant populations in order to detect the presence of unwanted organisms and to maintain an accurate assessment of plant and animal health status. Its budget for this in 1994/95 was almost $9 million.

The Ministries of Agriculture and of Forestry also maintain a capability to respond to unwanted organisms which could become a serious problem if left unchecked. Emergency responses are rare, but control or eradication efforts may be required at short notice. In addition these Ministries provide border control and postentry quarantine services to prevent harmful organisms entering through airports, vessels, passengers, cargo and mail and investigate suspected illegal imports of plant and animal material. These functions are required by the Biosecurity Act 1993. They had a budget of about $18 million in 1994/95 (Ministry of Agriculture, 1995).