SNA questions and answers

Based on your feedback we have answered some additional questions about the potential Significant Natural Areas to be included in the draft Far North District Plan. We also provide information about how SNAs fit into the 'higher order' document, the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity.

How do SNAs affect land ownership?

Ownership is not changed by SNAs, although there will be some restrictions placed on how you use land that has been identified as a Significant Natural Area. All land in New Zealand is already subject to planning rules and legislation that limit how owners use their land. For example, there are rules about the clearance of indigenous vegetation in different zones in Chapter 12 of the Operative District Plan.

Do I have to fence or formally protect my SNA?

If you are not planning to develop or subdivide your property, there will be no requirement to formally protect the SNA through fencing, covenants or other methods. 

How do I manage an SNA?

There is no special requirement to manage these areas. However, if you want to subdivide your land, a covenant would be put on the area of the land that has been identified as an SNA. This is not that different to what would happen under existing planning rules, it just clarifies the rules.

Do SNAs affect what animals I can keep?

No. All existing uses in SNAs can continue. If there is stock grazing in an SNA, then that can continue. As for cats and dogs, it is already the case if you want to subdivide in high-density kiwi areas, a covenant may be placed on the subdivided land limiting or banning cats and dogs. SNAs do not include rules about cats and dogs.

Why is FNDC applying this now?

The Regional Policy Statement for the Northland requires us to identify and map Significant Natural Areas. We must include them in the District Plan. Several other councils have already gone through this process, including Lower Hutt City Council in 2018, Porirua City Council, New Plymouth District Council and Waikato. West Coast Regional Council is also currently identifying SNAs.

Will an SNA affect 'non-SNA' parts of my property?

SNAs do not change planning rules that may already apply to other parts of your property outside the SNA.

 

What if I don't agree with the SNA assessment?

If you don't agree that the potential SNA on your property includes plants and habitat with high ecological value, then we want you to tell us. That is what the feedback period is for – to refine the desk-top mapping exercise and correct any mistakes. 

How did you assess the SNA on my property?

Most of the mapping was a desktop exercise using existing information and aerial photographs. We have conducted a small number of site visits, but have not entered private property without permission. 

Why didn't all the trustees of our land receive a letter?

We sent SNA letters to the address listed as the ratepayer address. This alone was a significant undertaking with over 8000 letters sent to landowners. We anticipate that those receiving letters from the Council will forward information on SNAs to others with an interest in that land. All information in the letter can also be found online and is easily accessed from anywhere in the country or from overseas. This includes an online mapping tool (where any address can be searched) which should make it easy for others to see where SNA boundaries are. They can also search using the SNA number on the ecological report included in the letter. These reports are also available online. The mapping tool is available here: Significant Natural Area Mapping

SNAs in relation to the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity

These questions and answers are adapted from some information compiled by Forest and Bird, putting SNAs in the context of the draft national policy.

What is the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity?

The draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) is a policy set by central government to guide councils on how to protect nature in their regions. Up until now, it’s been up to each council to decide how to do this.

The Resource Management Act was passed in 1991, and has required since then that Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) are protected, regardless of whether they are on public or private land. That requirement hasn’t changed.

The problem is that many landowners and councils don't know which areas are significant, and even if they do, there's no legal clarity on what 'protection' means. The proposed NPSIB will standardise the criteria and policies that apply to SNAs, ensuring equity, and reducing expensive consenting costs.

Read the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity here.

What are Significant Natural Areas?

Significant Natural Areas are New Zealand’s most important remnants of native habitat – places where rare or threatened plants or animals are still found. Habitat loss is one of the main threats to New Zealand’s wildlife so it’s important that we look after the significant areas we have left, whether they’re on public or private land.

SNAs have usually been looked after by previous and existing landowners, either intentionally or unintentionally. That’s why they still exist. Many land owners recognise they have something special on their land that’s worth protecting. Without the thousands of land owners across the country who have done this, we would have very few important places left outside of conservation land. 

Why do we need to identify SNAs on private land?

Land Care Research data shows that between 1996 and 2017, 84,000 hectares of native tussock, shrubland and forest was cleared across New Zealand. Most of this was on private land.

Today, 80 per cent of native birds, 88 per cent of lizards and 100 per cent of frogs are threatened with extinction. Despite the good work being done by many land owners, irreplaceable areas of nature are still being destroyed.

What do SNAs mean for landowners?

 It's important to note that existing practices in or near SNAs will generally be able to continue. Existing grazing, tourism, or honey production for example can carry on. But these activities won’t be able to intensify, and new activities won’t be allowed to negatively affect SNAs.

The sorts of activities that might harm an SNA are felling trees for subdivision, or clearing bush to convert into pasture.

Will land owners be required to do weed and pest control?

Unless it is required under a Regional Pest Management Strategy, the council cannot require land owners to do weed or pest control in an SNA. 

Why private land when we have so much public conservation land?

 Many important ecosystems are nearly entirely restricted to private land. For example, many lowland forests remnants are privately owned, and not on conservation land. They are precious homes for wildlife because we have already felled most of these areas for our towns, industries and farms.

Next steps?

The draft NPSIB was developed following a two-year collaborative process involving Forest & Bird, Federated Farmers, the Conservation and Freshwater Iwi Leadership Group, the Forest Owners Association, the Environmental Defence Society, and a representative from the extractive/infrastructure industries.

The draft was then publicly consulted on, with 92% of submitters supporting the policy.

Minister Shaw, Associate Minister for the Environment, has indicated he will seek further submissions on an exposure draft in the coming months, before the NPSIB is approved by Cabinet and finally gazetted, at which point it becomes government policy. 

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