Northland land owners are being encouraged to make submissions on proposals in a new National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.
The policy aims to protect New Zealand's iconic flora and fauna, including ecosystems, birds, plants, insects and other species.
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Beef + Lamb NZ has identified that the policy has implications for all farmers, but particularly those in Northland, on the West Coast of the South Island, the Mackenzie Country and hill country farmers.
A series of workshop meetings are being held this month to help farmers understand the implications of the draft policy, and to provide advice on writing a submission. The workshops are being organised by Beef and Lamb NZ in association with Federated Farmers NZ.
The workshop meeting for Northland is being held at Barge Park in Whangārei on February 24.
Northland Federated Farmers chairman John Blackwell says there are many aspects to the national policy statement, and farmers need to be cautious about how any new rules might impact on their future business.
"Farming businesses can't stand still. They need to adapt and increase production to feed the growing population. If you import people, you need to feed them,'' Blackwell says. "I'd encourage farmers to get involved to ensure our voices are heard.''
Federated Farmers has produced a fact sheet to highlight key points for farmers.
National Policy Statements must be implemented by councils through regional and district plans. The statement for indigenous biodiversity specifies objectives and policies to identify, protect, manage and restore indigenous biodiversity and what councils must do to achieve this.
Among key points raised by Federated Farmers is a concern the identification process might be too broad, so that most indigenous vegetation is included instead of only the most significant.
New activities might be precluded under the new policy, as any new farming activities must avoid "adverse effects" on a Significant Natural Area, with an extensive list of criteria.
The new policy also aims to cover the protection of highly mobile fauna, such as bats or falcons. Councils must survey and record areas where at-risk fauna has been or may be present and farmers will be expected to develop plans to manage these habitats.
While existing activities have protection under the Resource Management Act, in practice farmers have had difficulty proving they have existing use rights. Proving when scrub was last cultivated or cleared can be difficult when most farmers would not document these activities.
Lifestyle block farmers are also affected by the proposed policy, with councils to promote restoration of indigenous vegetation cover to a minimum of 10 per cent of urban and peri-urban areas.
Blackwell says farmers are wary of the language around restoration provisions as non-regulatory measures could become mandatory if restoration initiatives become part of councils' legal obligations.
Blackwell says councils have "been pretty severe on dairy farms in recent prosecutions over dairy effluent infringements".
"They have shown a double standard when urban infringements have occurred by failed effluent systems in Taupo and Wellington when any fines would have been charged back on the ratepayers.''
He says while the new policy has good intentions, there is always a cost to bear.
Farmers who have already fenced off waterways and wetlands will be concerned if rules are changed again.
Northland Regional Council strategy, policy and planning manager Ben Lee says there is an existing joint district council project under way to map Significant Natural Areas.
He says the mapping project is a consequence of the NRC's Regional Policy Statement which has criteria for identifying significant ecological areas and policies directing district councils to manage these areas.
"We're supporting the district councils with this project.
"Hopefully this mapping will meet most of the requirements of the NPS in which case the five-year timeframe shouldn't be a problem," Lee says.
"We're currently preparing a draft submission which will be presented to council at the February 18 council meeting. Assuming council approves it, it will set out council's views on the draft NPS."
The Government's consultation process closes on March 14.