A recently released environmental report has found we are damaging and losing our soils and our native plants and animals at alarming rates.
Our Land 2018, the latest report in the environmental reporting series published by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, is designed to help provide a clearer picture of New Zealand's environment, and the outcome is concerning.
Key findings show the country's soil is affected by erosion and intensive agriculture, with 192 million tonnes of it lost to erosion every year, 44 per cent from pasture.
Between 2010 and 2016, nearly 83 per cent of native birds, bats, reptiles, and frogs are classified as threatened or at risk of extinction, while native vegetation, coastal and lowland habitats have continued to reduce or degrade.
71,000 hectares of native land cover were lost between 1996 and 2012.
The report points to significant shifts in land use in the last two decades, and a 10 per cent increase in the total size of towns and cities (between 1996 and 2012) while local authorities continue to promote development and growth.
Horowhenua District Council Group Manager Strategy and Development David McCorkindale said the issues and environmental effects raised in the report primarily concern soil erosion, intensive agriculture and discharge to land, air and water, which are considerations under the jurisdiction of regional councils such as Horizons.
However, within the jurisdiction of a district council, the District Plan provides the context for considering the mitigation of the effects on the environment.
"The District Plan has the role to consider the effects of development, the rural subdivision requirements that are more restrictive on Class 1 and 2 soils to reduce the level of fragmentation, and maintaining land for productive land uses," he said.
"District Plans must achieve the purpose of the Resource Management Act, which is to promote sustainable management of natural and physical resources."
Mr McCorkindale said the RMA required the council to consider the effects of certain activities when processing resource consent applications, and that they had the ability to impose conditions on these if necessary.
He said examples of ways the council takes action in the district to counter the environmental effects of new development include controls on siting and the requirement of specific colours for buildings in high amenity landscapes to reduce the visual impact, the provision of stormwater attenuation ponds and the requirement to provide cycling and walking access to reduce the need for vehicle transport associated with new development.
"Land use zoning is also used to ensure activities/development occur in the appropriate place."
He said council agreed that individual developers were responsible for mitigating negative effects on the environment caused by their development.
"At the Horowhenua district level the Horowhenua District Plan and the Horizons One Plan prescribe the permitted baseline of acceptable environmental effects," he said.
"Activities, including development, that breach those permitted baselines ... require resource consent to assess whether the adverse environmental effects can be avoided, remedied or mitigated. In some cases specific conditions will be put on the consent."
Nationally, Our Land 2018 also showed a 42 per cent increase in the area of land used for dairy between 2002 and 2016, along with a shift over the past 15 years to higher numbers of animals farmed per hectare, especially in dairy.
Penny Nelson, deputy secretary at the Ministry for the Environment, said the report reinforced that land-use decisions are putting the environment under pressure.
"What we do on our land has effects across our environment and economy. It affects our water quality, the marine environment, and the volume of greenhouse gas emissions," Ms Nelson said.
Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said the environmental reporting series was vital in providing a clearer picture of the state of our environment, but that more research is needed.
"While Our Land 2018 lays a great foundation and has a really sound basis for the conclusions it makes, it's also clear that there's still much more we need to find out about land for future reports," Ms MacPherson said.
"Without more up-to-date information on land cover, land use, erosion, soil, and ecosystem health, we cannot fully understand the extent of pressures, the rate of change, or what impacts changes in soil and biodiversity are having on our social, cultural, economic, and environmental well-being. That's an issue we and the Ministry for the Environment, along with others, will actively address."