Forest & Bird says wetlands are disappearing on private land at an alarming rate, and has called on regional councils to double the wetlands in their areas.

Aerial images, taken in Southland, show a number of wetlands on private land completely or partly disappearing in the seven years from 2007-2014.

Forest & Bird released the images to mark World Wetlands Day today.

"This is our national shame. The rate and extent of wetland destruction in New Zealand has been recognised as among the highest in the world," said Forest & Bird's Freshwater Advocate, Annabeth Cohen.

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Listen to Jamie Mackay's interview with Southland's Fish & Game Field Officer Zane Moss on the importance of New Zealand's wetlands:

Cohen said wetlands on private land were most in danger of being drained and destroyed.

"New Zealanders may think wetland loss is a thing of the past, but recent reports confirm that we are still losing wetlands every day.

"Forest & Bird estimates a third of our remaining wetlands are on private land – we are in real danger of losing these special places unless the government does something meaningful this year."

An aerial shot near Kapuka South in 2007 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied
An aerial shot near Kapuka South in 2007 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied

Cohen said wetlands played a vital ecological role, providing unique habitat for threatened plants, birds, and fish.

A fifth of native bird species used wetlands as their primary habitat.

Since 2001, at least 13 per cent of New Zealand's freshwater wetlands, had been damaged or destroyed.

This included 214 wetlands that were completely gone and another 746 that were partially destroyed between 2001-2015.

The same area near Kapuka South in 2014 with wetlands highlighted. Photo / Supplied
The same area near Kapuka South in 2014 with wetlands highlighted. Photo / Supplied

Cohen said national regulations were inadequate to protect wetlands.

As a result, regional council plans were highly inconsistent and some allowed wetlands to be drained, cleared of vegetation, or opened up to livestock.

"As we mark World Wetlands Day, we're calling on the government to show leadership. Environment Minister David Parker needs to stop any further destruction by requiring regional councils to map and protect their wetlands.

"We also call on the Minister to set a goal for councils to double the wetlands in their region, by restoring wetlands that have been degraded and destroyed."

A recent study on wetland loss in New Zealand is the first to categorise wetlands as 'at risk' of being destroyed due to the presence of drainage channels (as seen in the aerial images).

An aerial shot near Isla Bank in 2007 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied
An aerial shot near Isla Bank in 2007 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied

Forest & Bird said the drainage work was often associated with the increase in dairy farming.

The theme of this year's World Wetlands Day recognises the significant role wetlands play in fighting climate change.

"Healthy wetlands will help protect people and wildlife from the impacts of climate change," said Cohen.

An aerial shot near Isla Bank in 2014 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied
An aerial shot near Isla Bank in 2014 with wetland area highlighted. Photo / Supplied

"They act as coastal buffers, shielding our lowlands from storm surges. They reduce floods and relieve droughts, as well as absorbing and storing carbon."

"We need every single wetland we've got—and more—if our native bird and fish species are going to stand a chance in the face of climate change."

Forest & Bird: Key points

• Less than 10 per cent of New Zealand's original extent of wetlands remains.
• There are no figures indicating national wetland destruction since 2015.
• The National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater Management is being reviewed by Minister David Parker this year and is the most immediate opportunity to
strengthen wetland protection.
• A draft NPS on Indigenous Biodiversity has been developed by key stakeholders
(including Forest & Bird) and presented to Minister Nanaia Mahuta and would also
provide much greater protections for wetlands.

Table 1: Forest & Bird, QGIS estimation of total freshwater wetlands (ha) and private land wetlands (ha) per region and nationally. This data will contain a degree of inaccuracy due to the imprecise knowledge of wetlands on private land.

Regional highlights:

• Since 2001, more than 15 per cent of wetlands in Auckland, Waikato, Gisborne,
Manawatu-Whanganui, Wellington, Marlborough, and Canterbury have been
damaged (reduced in size) or destroyed.
• Wellington has damaged (reduced in size) the greatest proportion of its wetlands
since 2001 (over 37 per cent).
• West Coast is the largest wetland region in New Zealand, and has damaged the
largest area of wetlands in hectares. Nearly 11,000 hectares have reduced in size
since 2001.
• Canterbury has damaged the second largest area of wetlands since 2001. Nearly
6000 hectares of wetlands have reduced in size.
• Both Waikato and Southland have damaged around 4000 hectares of wetlands
each since 2001.

Region by region

Northland

• Since 2001, 7 per cent of wetlands (just under 1000 hectares) has been
partially destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 6500 hectares (46 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Auckland

• Since 2001, 20 per cent of wetlands (just over 5000 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are approximately 1800 hectares (72 per cent)
of wetlands on private land.

Waikato

• Since 2001, 15 per cent of wetlands (just over 4200 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 10,600 hectares (38 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Bay of Plenty

• Since 2001, 8 per cent of wetlands (just over 250 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 2500 hectares (78 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Hawke's Bay

• Since 2001, 3 per cent of wetlands (just over 80 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 2300 hectares (97 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Gisborne
• Since 2001, 18 per cent of wetlands (170 hectares) has been partially destroyed
(reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 870 hectares (97 per cent) of wetlands
on private land.

Taranaki
• Since 2001, eight percent of wetlands (230 hectares) have been partially destroyed
(reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 1,600 hectares (53 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Manawatu-Whanganui

• Since 2001, 17 per cent of wetlands (nearly 1200 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 4900 hectares (70 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Wellington

• Since 2001, 37 per cent of wetlands (1000 hectares) has been partially destroyed
(reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 1600 hectares (57 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Nelson & Tasman

• Since 2001, 4 per cent of Tasman wetlands (over 180 hectares) has been
partially destroyed (reduced in size).
• Nelson only has 3 hectares of wetlands currently.
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 800 hectares (16 per cent) of wetlands
on private land in the Nelson and Tasman areas combined.

Marlborough

• Since 2001, 20 per cent of wetlands (just over 300 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 690 hectares (53 per cent) of wetlands
on private land.

Canterbury

• Since 2001, 29 per cent of wetlands (just over 5800 hectares) have been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 9200 hectares (48 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

West Coast

• Since 2001, 12 per cent of wetlands (over 10,700 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 12,100 hectares (14 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Otago

• Since 2001, 9 per cent of wetlands (2300 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates that there are about 11,000 hectares (46 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.

Southland

• Since 2001, 8 per cent of wetlands (nearly 4000 hectares) has been partially
destroyed (reduced in size).
• Forest & Bird estimates there are about 11,100 hectares (24 per cent) of
wetlands on private land.