Urban-sprawl concerns raised in report which spotlights serious land-use issues

A report on the state of the country’s land has highlighted the impact of urban sprawl, the loss of important wetlands and emerging problems associated with soil compaction.

The Our land 2018 report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ today, confirms the need for more action to improve land management, Environment Minister David Parker says.

“I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land.  Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils,” he says.

Officials have been asked to start work on a National Policy Statement (NPS) for Versatile Land and High Class Soils to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on our most productive land.

“We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too.”

Another major concern was the finding that 44 per cent of sites tested had low macroporosity levels – in layperson’s language, that the soil was likely to be compacted.

“Healthy soil is like a sponge, full of holes that can absorb air and water. When it is compressed it can’t absorb water, which makes it more drought prone and nutrients are more likely to run off into waterways,” Mr Parker says.

The report is one of the most comprehensive yet on the state of New Zealand’s land.

“It brings together a range of issues such as soil erosion and quality, biodiversity, urban growth and waste. The connections between those issues and other aspects of the environment, such as our waterways and climate, are clear to see,” Mr Parker says.

The report found that New Zealand loses around 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land.

Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land.

“The Government’s billion trees planting programme, which focuses on the ‘right tree, right place, right time’ will help.

“The report also confirms the continued loss of our limited wetlands, which contain some of our most precious biodiversity, and filter contaminants from land. We must do more to protect these.”

Mr Parker has also asked officials to begin working on a more comprehensive freshwater national policy statement to address concerns about sediment, wetlands and estuaries.

He said the new report must spark a greater effort to build our knowledge of land, because there are significant data gaps which must be filled.

Source: Minister for the Environment

Govt report confirms rivers are facing serious challenges

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are under increasing pressure, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of fresh water.

Our fresh water 2017 (HERE), released today, measures the quality of our waterways; water quantity and flows; biodiversity in rivers and lakes; and the cultural health of fresh water.

Key findings from the report are:

    • nitrogen levels are getting worse at 55 per cent and getting better at 28 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • phosphorus levels are getting better at 42 per cent and getting worse at 25 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction;
    * levels are 22 times higher in urban areas and 9.5 times higher in pastoral rivers compared with rivers in native forest areas;
    • 51 per cent of water allocated for consumptive use is for irrigation, and 65 per cent of that is allocated to Canterbury.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said (HERE) the regular environment reports were important in providing a national picture of the state of our environment while acknowledging regional variations.

“This helps us see where the greatest pressures are and where we are performing well,” she said. “Today’s report confirms our freshwater environment faces a number of serious challenges.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said land use clearly affected the state of fresh water in this country.

“This report confirms our urban waterways are the most polluted but we are seeing more declining trends in pastoral areas and it’s important we do something about it now and continue to track any progress.”

More information was still needed on fresh water biodiversity.

“It’s clear many species are under pressure. Of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction. About a third of native freshwater plants and invertebrates are also at risk,” Ms Robertson said.

“Recently there has been a strong focus on how swimmable our waterways are, but that is just part of the story. The implications for our freshwater species are really critical.

“Many of our species are found nowhere else in the world so it is even more crucial we don’t lose any under our watch. We need to consider the resilience of all species in any decisions we make that affect the environment.”

Other recent reports also demonstrated the significant impact from human activity on our fresh water quality and quantity and on our ecosystems, habitats and species, Ms Robertson said.

“The more studies there are, the better we understand the impact people have on fresh water. However, we can’t wait for perfect data to act. This report identifies some key issues we can focus on for actions.”

Ms MacPherson said Our fresh water 2017 used the best available data and was independently quality assured.

“Good science, data, and information have the potential to shape our choices and the impact we have on our environment at the national, regional, and community level.”

More work was needed on collecting and reporting consistent data on fresh water, including filling gaps in our knowledge, said Ms MacPherson.

“It will take time and effective collaboration to get the reliable, well-structured, and relevant statistics we need and we are continually looking at ways to improve data for future reports.”

Ms MacPherson noted that as with the other reports in the environmental reporting series, Our fresh water 2017 was focused on providing underlying evidence to help inform policy responses and the public debate.

“Past experience shows where we focus our energy, we can make a difference,” said Ms Robertson. “Over time we have become better at identifying and addressing point source pollution in water. Good fertiliser and erosion management in some areas appears to have helped decrease phosphorous in some waterways. We must explore more ways to effectively improve our most vulnerable waterways.”

The report is the second since the Environmental Reporting Act came into effect in June 2016. The next report – about atmosphere and climate – will be out in October 2017.


Review of gene editing and GMOs in NZ is triggered by High Court ruling in Scion case

A High Court ruling on genetic modification – it quashed a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority to allow the development of GM pine crops – is examined on a Sciblogs post today and in an article in the NZ Herald.

Scion, the Crown Research Institute, had gone to the authority in 2012 to find if it could use two new breeding techniques to grow pine trees.

The authority ruled the trees were not genetically modified and allowed them to be exempt from the law which restricts genetically modified crops in New Zealand.

The High Court has found it misinterpreted the law.

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Environment Ministry and Fonterra fund project to improve rural water quality in China

A joint New Zealand-China environmental science project investigating ways to improve water quality has started a series of field trials on a New Zealand-owned farm.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce was in China when he announced the joint project, describing it as an important step in reducing nutrient discharges into waterways.

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Minister is encouraged by the picture painted by two new water reports

Environment Minister Amy Adams has welcomed the release of two environmental water reports, saying they paint an encouraging picture of the country’s waterways but also underline the need for the Government’s freshwater reforms.

The indicator reports on river conditions and swimming suitability were released by the Ministry for the Environment.

The river condition indicator is based on data that was collected across more than 300 regional council and NIWA-monitored sites over a 10-year period (2000-2010), out of the tens of thousands of waterways across New Zealand.

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