Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

What are SNAs? 

SNAs are areas of indigenous vegetation, wetlands and other habitat areas essential to maintaining healthy populations of threatened plants and animals.

Why is the Council mapping SNAs?

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

We are legally required to locate and identify the values of potential SNAs and include this information in the new District Plan.

What is a District Plan?

The District Plan is the ‘rule book’ that manages the way land is used, developed and subdivided. We are reviewing the current District Plan. We must do this to bring the plan into line with national and regional government requirements under the Resource Management Act 1991. Part of the review focuses on how we protect our district’s SNAs. 

How were the SNAs identified?

The Regional Councils set out the criteria to determine whether an area is an SNA or not.

In the Waikato Region, the Waikato Regional Policy Statement requires all District Plans to protect SNAs. You can see the criteria that we must use to determine whether an area is significant or not here: criteria table 11A

Our new District Plan must use these criteria and it must comply with the provisions in the Waikato Regional Policy Statement.

If you live in the Manawatū-Whanganui part of the district, follow this link to see how SNAs are protected in this area. 

To identify the SNAs, we started by gathering information on the natural areas of the district. We used aerial imagery to map the potential SNAs and relied on ecological information that had been collected in the past, to assess the values and significance of each site. We compared this information against datasets held by the Waikato Regional Council. Some areas were checked by our ecologists where we had the landowner’s permission or could easily see the site from a public space.

Our initial dataset comprised some 5000+ individual polygons scattered across the district. These polygons were often clustered together or adjacent to one another. We worked with Tonkin and Taylor ecologists to refine this dataset by merging the polygons, where this was 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 was as accurate as possible. We also checked through all of the ecological descriptions and values to make sure that each site meets the criteria for significance in the Waikato Regional Policy Statement.  

Early on in the process we 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 project. Before we shared the final dataset of potential SNAs, we met with the stakeholders again, and this time representatives from the QEII Trust and the King Country Rivercare Group joined us. This group has helped guide us regarding the draft rules and assisted us with the letter that we sent out to landowners. We are very grateful for their input and feedback.

This is what we have found:

Summary of potential SNAs in Waitomo District by number and area

Distribution by area of the significance of potential SNA in Waitomo District

Distribution by number of the significance of potential SNA

What is the difference between international, national, regional and local SNAs?

In addition to assessing each potential SNA against 11 significance criteria, the Waikato Regional Council require us to assign each area a level of significance – international, national, regional or local – to enable prioritisation of resources when assisting in the protection of these areas. The table below shows significance levels with reasons and examples:

Significance levels

Main reasons for significance

Site examples

Internationally significant

  • Recognised as ecologically important at an international level, such as a RAMSAR site or World Heritage Area.
  • The best or only remaining large representative example in New Zealand of a suite of relatively intact indigenous ecosystems and ecological sequences.
  • The sites that have been used as a key habitat for international migrating species that would be threatened if habitat was lost. Or sites that contain distinct populations of acutely threatened species or species endemic to the Waikato region.

Tongariro National Park, Whangamarino Swamp, Kopouatai Peat Dome and the Firth of Thames estuary.

Nationally significant

  • Recognised as ecologically important at a national level.
  • Good quality example of nationally underrepresented ecosystem, or originally rare ecosystems, such as karst (limestone).
  • The sites have been used on an ongoing basis for very threatened species, such as brown kiwi and North Island weka.

DOC Kaimai-Mamaku Conservation Park. Ruakuri Caves and Bush Scenic Reserve.

Regionally significant

  • Recognised as ecologically important at a regional level. Good quality examples of regionally underrepresented habitat types, such as our best dune systems or largest mangrove-filled estuaries.
  • The sites contain populations of sparse species, such as longfin eel, hochstetter’s frog and moko skink.

Lake Okoroire, Tarariki Reserve in the Hauraki district, Waihou River native forest fragment.

Locally significant

  • These sites may not be highly significant in their own right, but can play an important part in a network of natural areas. For example, a locally significant site might be important as a seasonal feeding or breeding area, rather than habitat for threatened or sparse species. It might also act as a stepping stone between other natural areas, allowing wildlife to move around in search of food or mates.

Areas of native habitat scrub on the foothills of the Kaimai-Mamaku range.


How can I get support to protect an SNA?

You are more than likely aware of the important values of these area(s) on your property. You may have been actively protecting the area through a QEII open space covenant, Nga Whenua Rahui covenant, or by stock exclusion or pest control. Thank you for your efforts - you are making an important contribution to the ecological health of our district and the region. This link includes the contact details of organisations that have access to funding, support and assistance with protection mechanisms for SNAs.

Funding and Grants sheet (PDF, 527 Kb) 

What is the process from here?

Currently we are at step 2 of the process, which is consulting with landowners. Shortly we will be moving into step 3 by refining the dataset further through additional consultation.

SNA Process

When the new District Plan is notified next year, you can make a formal submission. You’ll receive a letter closer to that time letting you know that the new District Plan has been notified and setting out the timeframe for submissions. 

Is there a difference between the Waikato Region and the Manawatū-Whanganui Region?

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, but a small area in the south eastern part is in the Manawatū-Whanganui Region.

Manawatū_Whanganui-Waikato Border

If you live in the Manawatū-Whanganui Region part of the district, the Manawatū-Whanganui Regional Council is responsible for the protection of SNAs. For this reason, we will map the potential SNAs in this area, but the District Plan rules will not apply to you.  If you are located within this part of the District and want to know more about protecting or developing an SNA, you should call Horizons Regional Council on 0508 800 800.