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Shaw launches biodiversity regulations and proposal for credits system

James Shaw
Associate Environment Minister James Shaw. File photo Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government is proposing a new "biodiversity credits" system, as it brings in new regulations requiring councils to plan for protecting local wildlife.

It is also funding pilots of new projects including employing "regional biodiversity coordinators"; using drones to plant native seeds; and using targeted sprays from helicopters to control weeds.

Consultation on the credits will be open until 3 November - after the mid-October election, so it would be up to the next government to respond.

The new regulations for councils- contained in the new National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, which includes rules for Significant Natural Areas - will be phased in from 4 August.

Associate Environment Minister James Shaw unveiled the plans at Kororipo Heritage Park in Kerikeri on Friday.

He said with 63 percent of New Zealand's ecosystems and a third of native species threatened - or at risk of extinction - the plan would aim to halt the decline of nature due to human activity.

"Aotearoa is home to natural taonga found nowhere else on earth. While some native species' populations are improving, many are in decline. Reversing this decline and making sure our native plants and animals are healthy and resilient is a priority for our government," he said.

A biodiversity credits system would allow people and philanthropic organisations to finance "native-positive" actions, including on whenua Māori, Shaw said.

"Landowners, land managers, farmers, and Maōri should be looking at their wild spaces as a taonga, but also as a valuable source of supplementary income. This can then be used to support on-the-ground conservation, like reforestation, wetland restoration, or planting native vegetation," he said.

It could also help close the economic gap between exotic and native forestry - promoting more effective emissions reduction and improving stormwater absorption.

The government's discussion document seeks feedback on how such a system should be set up, and what role the government should have in it.

After consultation closes on 3 November, the Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment will make recommendations to the government.

The National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity would also for the first time require all regional councils to prepare a strategy for biodiversity.

Shaw said councils had been required for the past 30 years to "take care of important wildlife habitats" but that had not been clearly defined or supported.

The specific changes for land use would depend on how each council identified and managed its "Significant Natural Areas" which until recently had no clear definition.

The move to impose a single method for identifying SNAs came under fire from protesters and landowners who feared it would mean losing control of private land, or facing restrictions on what they could do with it.

The policy statement however applies to councils rather than landowners, giving the local authorities flexibility on how they manage adverse effects in SNAs.

Shaw on Friday said activities including grazing could continue, provided their effects remained at the same level and did not increase the loss of native plants.

He also said a tailored approach had been created for Māori land, which was often a home to a significant amount of indigenous vegetation.

"This will prevent Māori land from being excessively affected by the NPSIB and will allow Māori to meet their aspirations for the use of their land and care for the environment," he said.

Councils would also need to restore important areas that had degraded over time, and monitor biodiversity. Their policy statements and plans will need to be in place within five years from when the NPS takes effect, with changes publicly notified within eight years of implementation.

The government also announced a series of new tools being funded and worked on for protecting biodiversity.

These include: