Significant Natural Areas

One of the stand-out features of the Waitomo District is its natural beauty.  We know this, lots of people in New Zealand do, and it is one of the key reasons overseas visitors come to the District. One of the areas of work the Council has to do for the review of the District Plan is to look at the significant natural areas in the District. We have being working on this for some time.  

What are SNA's? 

SNAs (Significant Natural Areas) are areas of indigenous forests, shrublands, wetlands and habitats of threatened flora and fauna.  SNAs are essential to maintain healthy populations of threatened flora and fauna. 

Under the Resource Management Act 1991, the Council has to protect areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna.  It’s a matter of national importance.  

What is “Significant”?

Regional Councils provide the direction on what is considered to be significant vegetation within their region. District Plans are required to give effect to these documents.

The land within the Waitomo District is split between two Regional Councils (the red line on the map below).  Most of the District is located in the Waikato Region, with a small area in the south eastern part of the District in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region.  

In the Waikato Region, the Regional Policy Statement (WRPS) requires District Plans to protect Significant Natural Areas (Policy 11.2 and Method 11.2.2).  The WRPS provides criteria that are to be used in determining significance. 

The Manawatu-Wanganui Region area of the District is different.  In the Horizons Regional Council ‘One Plan’ it clearly states that it is the Regional Council’s function to provide for the protection of Significant Natural Areas.  For this reason, Significant Natural Areas will not be identified by Waitomo District Council in this area.  If you are located within this part of the District and want to know more, you should call Horizons Regional Council on 0508 800 800.

What is the process?

We began by gathering information on the natural areas of the district that are potentially significant.  This involved looking at aerial photographs and the ecological information that has been collected in the past, to assess the values and significance of each site. Tonkin and Taylor completed this initial research phase of the project in July 2018. (Step 1). 

We then met with stakeholders including the Department of Conservation, Federated Farmers representatives, Regional Council representatives and staff from the Maniapoto Maori Trust Board to discuss the initial findings of the desktop study.

Later in 2019 we will be talking with landowners about the information that has been collected (Step 2).  Landowners with potentially Significant Natural Areas on their properties will be invited to attend meetings in local areas at pre-arranged times.  At these meetings the values of the potentially Significant Natural Area can be discussed and it may be possible to amend maps and data.  In some cases follow up site visits will be required (Step 3).  

We are also starting to think about how this information will be included within the Proposed District Plan (Step 4). It is too early to say what will or won’t be included in the Proposed District Plan. The approaches adopted by other Councils include rules and/or incentives or a combination of both.  When the Proposed District Plan is notified there will be further opportunities to make submissions and talk to the Council (Step 5).  

What’s happening at the moment?

At the moment we are testing the data so it is ready for consultation with landowners (Step 2). Our initial data set comprised some 5000+ individual polygons scattered across the district. These polygons are often clustered together or adjacent to one another. WDC is working with Tonkin and Taylor to refine this data set by merging the polygons, where this is appropriate, into single SNA sites. The Waikato Regional Council has also helped us to amend the line work (which are the boundaries around each polygon) so that this is as accurate as possible. We are also checking through all of the descriptions to make sure that each site meets the criteria for significance.  

In early 2019 we will verify or ‘ground-truth’ a selection of sites to determine the level of accuracy of the desktop study. If an ecologist needs to visit a site on your property, we will ask for your permission. Remembering of course, that we are very early in this process and there will be further opportunities for discussion. 

Further information:

If you would like any further information, or would like to talk to somebody at the Council about this work, then please email Fiona Hill at Fiona.Hill@waitomo.govt.nz, or phone the Council’s Freephone number 0800 932 4357 and ask to speak to Fiona.

Significant Natural Areas