Buller, Golden Bay priority areas for wetland protection
Tasman is urging landowners to look after what are fast becoming the country's rarest and most-at risk ecosystems - the vegetated boggy patch in the back paddock.
New Zealand has already lost 90 per cent of its wetlands and increased land intensification is only ramping up the pressure on those special damp places which are the kidneys of catchments and filter contaminants while proving a home for unique plants, birds, insects and fish.
A proposal by Tasman District Council in 2001 to allow the drainage of wetlands saw complaints to the then-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Morgan Williams, who subsequently urged the council to rescind the proposed rule and develop a better understanding of the wider values of wetlands along with parallel management tools.
Last month the council formally kicked off its long term project in a meeting with a group of Murchison landowners.
Resource scientist Trevor James said the council now knows where the wetlands are and is in a process of working with landowners to remind them of its 10-year-old rules which ban the removal or destruction of native wetland vegetation, the draining of wetlands and the need to have a resource consent to take or divert water from a wetland.
"Now that the wetland areas have been defined by aerial/satellite images, owners of wetlands need to be very careful about breaching the rules. If you are uncertain about whether you have a wetland, contact council and we will determine this as soon as we can.
"At this stage we are mostly concentrating on the areas of more intense land use, like the Buller and Golden Bay, where stock fencing may be needed in some circumstances." The council had a fencing fund for such projects, he said.
Mr James said wetlands featured plants, like raupo, spagnum moss, kahikatea or the native tussock purei, which required the ground to be wet or damp for much of the year.
Far from being an unsightly unproductive space, wetlands play a vital role by acting as a sponge in times of flooding, helped retain water during droughts and cleaned water of contaminants, which enhanced the quality of resulting lowland streams and rivers.
"Really small wetlands can have an amazing positive impact on streams."
Mr James said although landowners expressed concern as to where the council's rules may eventually lead, there was no major outcry from those attending last month's meeting in Murchison, and some small support.
"We understand that these rules will be an imposition for some landowners when, in many cases they have looked after the wetland well.
"However, council was under increasing external pressure to protect wetlands - for example, through the national policy statement for freshwater."
However the key message from the council was that it has carried out aerial surveys of all the district's wetlands and would continue to do so annually to monitor their use, misuse and protection.
"In the interim the council wishes to work with wetland owners to verify the boundaries and significance of their wetlands.
"By everyone knowing the exact boundary of wetlands it gives clarity and certainty to landowners and council alike.
"Of the first 58 wetland landowners contacted in the Buller, about 40 per cent have requested site visits to their wetlands."
Mr James said visiting farmers throughout Buller would take until the end of this year, after which staff would focus on Golden Bay.
"It's a long-term project and will probably take three or four years.
"But the message is we now know where the wetlands are and there are rules in place and those who destroy or damage wetlands can be prosecuted."
On the positive side, there were a growing number of private landowners across the district undertaking restoration projects to enhance and develop new and naturally occurring wetlands, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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