Northland’s protests against SNAs raises wider issue

// Biodiversity

Last week, Northland farmers and Tangata Whenua came together to protest against the Far North District Council’s mapping of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs).

image of trees on farm

The Council has agreed to pause the mapping, but events in Northland highlighted a much wider issue about the lack of clarity around what a SNA designation means in terms of future management.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) is calling for a halt on the mapping all new SNAs until there is certainty about the national rules, but the organisation is also asking the Government to continue to pause the development of a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (originally consulted on back in 2019) while farmers are grappling with freshwater and climate change regulations.  

B+LNZ’s General Manager Policy and Advocacy, Dave Harrison, says farmers have enough to deal with at present, and he would like to see the Government work alongside B+LNZ, Federated Farmers and others to work through the original proposals and find solutions that protect both native biodiversity and farmers’ businesses.

“In particular we are seeking to narrow the definition of SNAs and to clarify the rules to ensure that agricultural production and the protection of biodiversity can co-exist.

“Farmers throughout the country have done a fantastic job of protecting and enhancing the native biodiversity on their farms with 24 percent, around 2.8 million hectares, of this country’ native biodiversity growing on sheep and beef farms. “

“They are the ones that invest time and money in planting, fencing and pest-protection work so it is unfair that they should be penalized with unreasonable and impractical management restrictions.”

In Northland, the designation of SNA has been a desktop exercise using outdated aerial maps from 2017.

Dave says a significant amount of gorse, plantation forestry and even a cemetery have been designated an SNA.

“In other words, land with no material native biodiversity or amenity values has been called an SNA.”

He says stands of bush on a farm are being lumped in with larger areas of nearby bush and this has the potential to have significant ramifications for the future management of the productive land.

“Often those farmers with the stands of bush near a larger area don’t even know that they are affected – only the person responsible for rates on the larger bush area has been notified.”

Last week, B+LNZ ran workshops in the Northland region to guide farmers through the district council’s pre-submission process and these have been well-attended.

Kaeo farmer Jeff Martin, whose farm won the Supreme Award in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards last year, says B+LNZ has done a great job at supporting farmers and advocating on their behalf.

On his own farm, they have decreased the area in pasture (although production has increased) while they have fenced off wetlands and allowed native biodiversity to flourish.

He says 42 percent of the region is now covered in woody vegetation, up from 30 percent a few years ago.

Bay of Islands farmer Mack Lynn says while he is not particularly affected by SNAs, he is grateful to B+LNZ for running workshops for farmers to present the facts and guide them through the Far North District Council’s pre-submission process.

He says there is a lot of misinformation circulating about SNAs and B+LNZ is doing a great job informing farmers about what they need to know and advocating on their behalf.