Flaws in land management report need to be rectified quickly

A report on management of New Zealand land was released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, with admissions it lacked data and the data used was six years old. It is important to have a good plan for land use and environmental protection.

ODT editorial: Insights into the environment

The “Our land 2018” report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand this week, confirms the need for more action to improve land management.

Environment Minister David Parker says he is particularly troubled by how much  urban growth is occurring in irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand there are only limited qualities of these high-class soils.

The report identifies New Zealand is losing some of its most productive land to houses. Agriculture is under pressure from the loss of highly productive and versatile land due to urbanisation.

There has been a 7% reduction in land used for agriculture, meaning land and soil is lost to urban subdivisions, forestry and lifestyle blocks. Mr Parker is taking steps to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on the most productive land.

He recognises the need to ensure there is enough land to build the houses people need while noting the need for protecting the most productive areas of the country.

It was natural for towns and cities to be established and grow near productive land, but as the population grows it puts pressure on the best land. This is a major issue in Auckland, and it has been a problem in Dunedin where marginal land on the fringes of the city has been zoned against housing but productive flat land on the Taieri plain has been increasingly subdivided.

Federated Farmers is disappointed with much of the report, saying the data is six years out of date. The report lacks significant data and admits this multiple times. One of the factors highlighted by scientists is the shocking lack of rural waste data. Better records and tracking of waste disposal is a key to understanding the risks waterways, soil, air and towns face — especially in an expanding industry known for generating important volumes of non-natural waste.

Parker needs to ensure that more research is done and more data is collated.

The report finds New Zealand loses about 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land. The high volume of soil being swept into the waterways is choking aquatic life.

The Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land. Much of the response to the report comes from environmental agencies firmly opposed to farming. However, farmers are not the only ones with a stake in the environment.

If, as predicted, we get more and heavier rain events erosion will be an ongoing challenge. There are many hilly areas prone to erosion. A lot of land has been cleared of erosion protective forest.

The report also confirms the continued loss of New Zealand’s limited wetlands which contain some of the most precious biodiversity and filter contaminants from the land. More must be done to protect these.

A lot of wetlands have been drained and converted into pasture – and housing, like the flood prone South Dunedin flat – since European immigration began.

Mr Parker has taken note of the report, and its shortcomings. He understands the need to have balance in the environment and has asked officials to start work on a National Policy Statement for versatile land and high-class soils. His contribution is important.

The effort of the Government in publishing this report, and the strong self-criticism implied in its findings, should be applauded. Further reports of this character will be needed to get better insights into how New Zealand manages its land and resources.

It is a bit alarming that the report has such poor data to work with. That’s the fault of past governments. Parker now has the opportunity to put this right – but with the rush to built a lot more houses he may have to act quickly.

9 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 23, 2018

    Seems to be a lot more alarming that the data they do have has been grossly misrepresented as Chris and Maggy highlighted previously.

    • Griff

       /  April 23, 2018

      There has been a 7% reduction in land used for agriculture, meaning land and soil is lost to urban subdivisions, forestry and lifestyle blocks.

      life style blocks are often more intensive and better managed than large farms
      My former home in waiuku was part of a development subdivided off a large beef dry-stock farm .
      Once broken up into life style blocks its uses included.
      Passion fruit orchard.
      Fiber goats .
      Tree nursery.
      Lavender oil.
      Small engineering works .
      Exotic forestry.
      Pigs.
      As well as running almost as many dry stock units as the large concern had.
      Instead of one family the land is now home to twenty or so.

      One could think that Federated Farmers is lobbying for large farmers.

  2. Blazer

     /  April 23, 2018

    ‘ Parker now has the opportunity to put this right – but with the rush to built a lot more houses he may have to act quickly.’

    and yet criticise another minister for acting…too quickly!

    • Jones does seem to have acted too quickly on his provincial handouts.

      David Clark and Jacinda Ardern also seemed to rush in to condemn past health funding using the sewage story as ammunition.

      In contrast Parker acknowledged deficiencies in the land report instead of making excuses or unsubstantiated claims, so i have a lot more faith in him acting with appropriate speed rather than haste.

  3. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  April 23, 2018

    I find it hard to believe that data is missing…
    Years ago when we had Soil Bureau, DSIR and the Soil & Water Division of the Ministry of Works, we all knew where the best, worst, wettest, driest soils of NZ were.
    The place had been well mapped. I had a whole set of soil/land classification maps for NZ showing where the steep, very steep and erodible soils were.
    Presumably all this information is at the core of Landcare’s current research (https://soils.landcareresearch.co.nz/soils-at-manaaki-whenua/)

    In this day of computers, drones, helicopters, accessible roads, etc, it’s extraordinary that there are large gaps of data missing.

    Perhaps in the drive to have Regional Councils doing their own thing on their little patch of NZ, we have lost sight of just how little high quality soil we have throughout NZ.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  April 23, 2018

      Possibly the fact that Regional Councils entertain the likes of Robert as elected representatives has something to do with it.

    • Blazer

       /  April 23, 2018

      ‘In this day of computers, drones, helicopters, accessible roads, etc, it’s extraordinary that there are large gaps of data missing.’….not really..when it came to data on foreign property transactions the Nats just said…got none!

      • You are just being stupid with your analogy Blazer. The condition of land is something people can see and map. As Maggy says, the actual data is already there. I have one of the old soil maps around.
        When you are trying to follow financial and property transactions through companies and/or trustees, what can be understood? Can you explain all the dealings in the Winebox – which wasn’t that difficult as ones go? Why do you think the convictions rate for a lot of white collar crime is so low?

        • Blazer

           /  April 23, 2018

          yes I can explain the Magnum transaction.Unlike the head of the S.F.O..I’m not..’all at sea’ with the spurious argument of form over substance..Data can be collected if you want it to be collected.The Nats did not want…inconvenient…data.