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Indigenous Biodiversity: what does it mean for a farmer?

By Oscar Savage, Graduate Planner, Baseline Group Marlborough | Dec 15, 2021

Historically, New Zealand has seen the extensive loss of indigenous biodiversity associated with original land development practices to create farmland. However there is an increasing trend, and direction through legislation, to protect and enhance biodiversity values on farms.

Biodiversity on-farm is a win-win for farmers and also provides a significant environmental benefit. Agricultural systems on-farm function at their best when biodiversity is high. Planting a shelterbelt of mainly natives provides habitat for desired native fauna while providing stock cover, and protection for soils against erosion. Soils containing a healthy microbiome, with a diversity of insects and other fauna present will serve a pasture production better than the alternative of a uniform monoculture. Hardly surprising considering a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on earth.

Protecting significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna is a matter of national importance under Section 6 of the Resource Management Act 1991. The further intention to protect indigenous biodiversity at a national level came in 2019 with the Draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB). Previously, the protection of biodiversity has largely existed at a regional level through Regional and District Planning frameworks. The proposed NPS-IB actively involves Māori by including indigenous knowledge and recognising the role of tangata whenua as kaitiaki or guardians of the environment. The NPS-IB requires Regional Council’s to prepare Biodiversity Strategies in collaboration with tangata whenau and stakeholders. The purpose of these strategies is to promote a landscape-scale restoration and enhancement vision for the region’s indigenous biodiversity. This management must also be undertaken while building the resilience of biodiversity to climate change.

There has been a shift in farming practices and attitudes towards protecting and enhancing native biodiversity on-farm, including the retirement of marginal areas. The NPS-IB seeks to increase this on-farm management in an integrated manner. A new focus on integrated management could see an increase in both the sustainability of pastoral farming and indigenous biodiversity, while addressing one in isolation is not likely to result in a sustainable future for either. There is an emerging recognition that when empowered with trust, efficient incentivisation and resourcing, farmers are the best stewards of indigenous biodiversity on their land. With organisations, such as the QEII Trust, New Zealand Landcare Trust, and central government providing resources and funding under programs such as jobs for nature and the one billion trees program, the future for biodiversity is looking positive for both farmers and the wider community.

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