Many councils own lands that may have considerable biodiversity value. These lands may be held for a variety of purposes including recreation, actual or potential water supply catchment, natural hazard management, forestry and open space protection. These areas are often of value because they are in lowland and coastal environments where few natural ecosystems remain.
Council water supply catchments were often set aside in the 19th century and may now be one of the very few areas with unlogged lowland indigenous forest in a district or region.
Local council reserves can be important for protection of biodiversity in urban and rural areas as well as for provision of ecosystems services such as flood mitigation and soil conservation, and provision of amenity and recreation.
Reserves with a primarily recreation or amenity role can also be important for biodiversity protection (eg, orchids in the middle of the Rotorua Racecourse and bush at the Waikumete Cemetery in Waitakere City).
Auckland Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council both have an extensive network of regional parks managed for conservation, catchment water supply and recreation. The Local Government Act 2002 provides for the development of regional parks.
Greater Wellington Regional Council manages over 50,000 hectares of parks, forest and other recreation areas. Some of the water catchment areas contain the best examples of original lowland podocarp forest in the lower North Island and parts are now subject to intensive animal pest control.
Local authorities may manage Crown-owned land (including scenic reserves) with biodiversity values (eg, Whakatane District Council).
Esplanade reserves and paper roads around water margins may contain important biodiversity values. They may also play an important role in protecting adjoining aquatic ecosystem values. Esplanade reserves are managed under the Reserves Act 1977. Combined management of esplanades with adjacent paper roads can reduce overall management costs and have biodiversity benefits.
Where there is a network of esplanade reserves and possibly other council reserves along the coast or water body margin a combined management plan is sometimes prepared by the relevant council. An example of such a plan is the Golden Gate Reserves Management Plan in Porirua City.
Esplanade reserves are often managed by the adjoining landowner, particularly in districts with few resources. This can benefit biodiversity values, particularly if the council is able to provide some support (eg, free disposal of environmental weeds, native plants). However, some adjoining landowners are more interested in improving their views, boat access and amenity values and so do not manage these areas to maintain biodiversity values. A variety of techniques is needed to address this. See Esplanade areas guidance note for more information.
Lands owned and managed by a council may be administered through a variety of council departments with often different objectives. Protecting and enhancing biodiversity values on council lands should be part of the objectives for all departments.
Appropriate actions include:
- effective and timely terrestrial and aquatic plant and animal pest control as a leading example to the rest of the community
- planting appropriate eco-sourced native species
- habitat restoration activities as appropriate (eg, planting native trees after removal of pines; removing willows from waterways and riparian margins; ensuring streams and rivers provide their natural levels of fish passage (before culverts, dams, weirs and so on)).
In most cases road reserves and recreation reserves will not fall within the definition of an ‘urban environment allotment’ under sections 76(4A), 76(4B), or 76(4C) by virtue of them being part of large areas greater than 4,000 square metres, or not having a residential or commercial building on them. In such circumstances a council could still have a form of blanket protection applying to those trees.
In other circumstances, the road reserve has typically been vested in a council so that it, and anything on it, becomes the property of the council. Similarly, on any other land that Council owns Council would be the only party entitled to remove or prune a tree. Anyone damaging or removing trees in a road reserve without council permission may either be breaking by-laws (if these exist) or could be offending under other legislation by virtue of ‘damaging council property’.
Some areas of particularly high biodiversity value on council lands are not legally protected from activities such as vegetation clearance, road construction and infrastructure development, including wind farms, dams and impoundments.
Councils that manage lands should lead by example. Areas with biodiversity values should be identified by way of systematic survey and actions would be taken to ensure that those biodiversity values are legally protected.
The legal status of water margin lands (reserves of various status and paper roads) should be rationalised and a strategy for their management developed.
Landcare groups, various local ‘friends’ organisations and other care groups (eg, Coast Care) have become increasingly popular as communities become more involved in biodiversity protection and restoration activities on public lands.
An example of the leasing of council reserve land for biodiversity protection is the Karori Sanctuary/Zealandia in Wellington, which is run by a charitable community trust. This comprises of 225 hectares of council owned lowland regenerating forest surrounded by an 8.6 kilometre-long predator-proof fence. The idea for the sanctuary came from the community and was supported by both the Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council. Find out more about the Karori Sanctuary’s story.
A smaller scale example is the Thames Coromandel District Council leasing land to the local branch of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. The Society has developed plans in partnership with the Department of Conservation, Environment Waikato, recreational groups and iwi to restore floodplain vegetation while enhancing the recreational values of the area.
Councils can acquire areas of biodiversity value. To help maximise benefits from this system a region-wide assessment to identify purchase priorities could be undertaken. It may be possible to involve other agencies and organisations in the purchase of expensive properties (eg, Kaikoura Island).
Examples of council infrastructure development and maintenance activities that can affect biodiversity values include:
- road construction, realignment, widening and resurfacing
- road stormwater management
- road margin management
- construction of sewer lines (where they pass through natural areas and water margins)
- construction of stopbanks, planting certain willow species and river realignment for flood management purposes
- drainage works especially in the vicinity of wetlands
- water supply dams and reservoirs
- water takes from rivers for municipal supply
- altering river mouth positions.
Councils could reduce the adverse impacts of their activities on biodiversity values by:
- addressing the avoidance of adverse impacts on biodiversity in the initial planning and design stages
- seeking appropriate ecological advice
- developing council-wide protocols on best practice for council activities (including road construction and maintenance, water supply, wastewater and stormwater management, river control, land drainage, erosion control, other natural hazard mitigation works and forestry) affecting terrestrial and aquatic habitats
- minimising discharges of waste to water bodies through waste avoidance and minimisation.
Regional council functions under the Biosecurity Act 1993 provide councils with opportunities to improve indigenous biodiversity outcomes by:
- including environmental weeds and animal pests of natural areas within the pest management strategy
- undertaking eradication operations for pest species recently arrived with limited distribution to date
- undertaking control operations of plant and animal pests of natural areas with other agencies as appropriate.
Some of the larger regional councils and territorial local authorities employ staff or regularly contract specialist expertise on ecological assessment, biodiversity management, planning and monitoring. This is particularly so where the council actively manages lands of biodiversity value. In these cases there can be groups or sections charged with managing and conserving land to enhance biodiversity.
Smaller councils will increasingly need to access appropriate expertise via mechanisms such as staffing, contracting and staff sharing between organisations.
Where councils implement biodiversity programmes requiring active ongoing communication with landowners and/or the community, it is important to ensure that there are sufficient credible personnel to undertake these tasks.
The position of a biodiversity officer is becoming increasingly popular, even in smaller councils. This type of position is particularly likely where the council is responsible for monitoring a number of covenants and/or there are a number of sites of biodiversity value where the council is seeking to improve biodiversity outcomes.
The integrity of some plan rules can depend on appropriate ecological advice. For example, some territorial local authorities have rules that provide for landowners to receive extra development privileges in return for legally protecting an area of ecological value, or for landowners to clear an area of indigenous vegetation after proving that it is not of value. It is wise to use independent ecologists to carry out the certification.