Protecting Significant Natural Areas

Published on 18 March 2021


From this week, around 9000 Far North property owners with Significant Natural Areas on their land will receive a letter from the Council. A Significant Natural Area (SNA) has high ecological value due to the native plants and habitat there. Many Far North property owners will already know they have an area like this on their land and will also know about District Plan rules designed to manage and protect these areas.

We are now working on a new District Plan and the Government requires that these areas are identified and managed more specifically. We also have a responsibility under the Resource Management Act to protect significant indigenous vegetation and habitats. To comply with this, we worked with other Northland Councils last year to map SNAs in the region. This was undertaken by ecologists, Wildland Consultants. They used a combination of existing information, new aerial photography, and site visits to identify SNAs. This work has increased the accuracy and knowledge of natural areas and we now know that approximately 42 per cent of our district contains potentially sensitive environments. Half of this is within Department of Conservation land. When last mapped in the 1990s, SNAs accounted for just under a third of the district so many property owners will be unaware that their land includes an SNA.

So, what exactly is an SNA and why should we care?

Northland has a unique environment containing many endangered plant and animal species. An example is the Northland Green Gecko. This is found only in Northland and its population is in decline. These are tree-dwelling and active during the day, so you may have seen them. They have an important role in our environment because they pollinate native plants and disperse seeds. One of the biggest threats to species like the gecko is loss of habitat. That’s why we need to protect the SNAs we still have for future generations.

The proposed District Plan will have rules for SNAs related to clearing vegetation or when subdividing your land. This is when you may need to apply for a resource consent. There is no requirement to protect the SNA through fencing, covenants or other methods, unless you intend to develop or subdivide the land. Of course, you can voluntarily protect the SNA through a Council conservation covenant or a private covenant. There are incentives to do this, including rates remission for voluntary conservation covenants. Protecting our diverse environment also increases recreational and educational opportunities. It enhances tourism, especially eco-tourism. It provides opportunities for science, research, and education, and helps protect our archaeological, geological and cultural heritage.

If you have received a letter, you will also have a feedback form. This allows you to provide us with more detail about the assessment of your property. You can also make a formal submission when our Proposed District Plan is publicly notified later this year. Alternatively, visit us at one of the drop-in venues operating this month during our Navigating our course public consultation. We are in Kerikeri tomorrow, Kaikohe next week and finally Kaitaia from 29 March.