To regulate or not to regulate: Challenges with protecting threatened indigenous biodiversity on private land in New Zealand
New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. Isolated for 80 million years, its indigenous flora and fauna and ecosystems have high levels of endemism. Over one third of the land area lies in protected conservation estate, however this is primarily in the upland, and mountainous areas of the country. Most of the depleted, rare and threatened biodiversity in the lowland areas lies on private land.
In New Zealand responsibility for implementing legislation and national policy for the protection of indigenous biodiversity on private land has been largely devolved to local authorities (councils). Legislation requires councils to develop methods to maintain indigenous biodiversity and manage environmental effects. Many councils use a mix of regulatory mechanisms and voluntary incentives.
Analysis of the strength of regional and district plans to protect biodiversity was undertaken. Investigations of the methods used by all 78 local authorities to address indigenous biodiversity are presented.
The depth and breadth of provisions in regional and district plans varies considerably. Councils with a higher population base have more resources to direct towards protection. These councils tend to have stronger community expectations and pressure to protect the environment and stronger regulation. Over half of councils have some process for identifying significant indigenous biodiversity. A significant proportion (over a third), however, have relatively limited provisions to protect biodiversity and some none at all. While all regional plans have some form of rule restricting damaging activities in wetlands, less than half have strong regulations where drainage is non-compliant.
There is a lack of national policy direction for local authorities on biodiversity and this has lead to variability in approaches and engagement. A mix of regulatory and non-regulatory methods which work best in different situations is needed. Sharing of best practice and development of standard approaches is recommended.