An investigation into Tasman District Council's (TDC) management of wetlands. The investigation reviews the international and national context for the sustainable management of wetlands at a strategic level. This includes consideration of: international conventions on wetlands (Ramsar); national initiatives on wetlands; Resource Management Act 1991 requirements; regional approaches to wetland management (other regional plans and non-regulatory programmes); and the contribution of wetlands to sustainable land use.
This investigation is, at its core, about value, values and relationships. The value of wetlands and the values and understandings, developed through good relationships, that different sectors of a community bring to their thinking about wetlands.
But why the focus on wetland management? There are many reasons. These include international recognition that they are an important habitat for many species; the loss of most lowland wetlands through drainage; the ecosystem and recreational values to society, communities and land based businesses; and that the stewardship of wetlands - in common with other forms of environmental management - is increasingly becoming the focus of the pampered palates of the world's prosperous, our global customers. Wetlands are therefore not simply patches of land that can be evaluated in simple agricultural production and economic terms. Their management, and any legislation governing their uses, must embrace a much wider context.
Most of New Zealand's wetlands have been drained. Of those remaining, many are small, and their natural character and habitat quality have been lost or degraded by partial drainage, pollution, animal grazing and introduced plants. Lowland wetlands are under-represented and most at risk. Drainage and modification of wetlands continues, New Zealand's wetland area is still in decline, and the valuable services that wetlands offer are being lost.
The variable understanding and appreciation of wetlands values within the community is at the crux of the issue in the Tasman District. These values need to be identified, discussed explicitly and understood in order to move forwards. TDC, in a supportive role, needs to provide the forum and facilitate a process in which the community is able to fully explore these issues.
Given the national importance placed on wetland management and protection, a multi layered partnership approach is appropriate to include national policy direction and assistance with implementation. This assistance may take a variety of forms - research and information, funding, and purchase of wetlands for the public estate. To date, little national assistance has been available to local government and this is a gap in the policy framework.
TDC already has in place a number of the elements of an appropriate policy package for the sustainable management of wetlands. However, there are some critical gaps that are affecting the overall capacity of the policy package to deliver sustainable management of wetlands. The key gaps are considered to be:
The three recommendations to the Tasman District Council cover the need to: amend the permitted activity rule to provide for a more precautionary approach; undertake research into the value and significance of wetlands in the District; and develop better working relationships with the community. The final recommendation is to the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation supporting the need for the development of national guidance.