Once again the farming community in the Mackenzie Basin is grappling with what impact a new plan change is likely to have on their operations and livelihoods.
Immediately prior to Christmas the Mackenzie District Council notified plan change 18 – Indigenous Biodiversity. Plan change 18 introduces a new chapter to the Mackenzie District Plan to specifically address Indigenous Biodiversity. The new provisions also manage the clearance of indigenous vegetation within the District.
Indigenous vegetation is defined as "a plant community of species native to New Zealand, which may include exotic vegetation but does not include plants within a domestic garden or that, have been planted for the use of screening/ shelter purposes e.g. as farm hedgerows or that have been deliberately planted for the purpose of harvest".
Due to its broad reach this definition will capture nearly all vegetation within the Mackenzie Basin subzone meaning that the new provisions of plan change 18 will impact most if not all land uses in the District.
A key requirement of plan change 18 is for rural development and pastoral intensification (subdivisional fencing and/or top dressing and oversowing) to occur in a way or at a rate that provides for no net loss of indigenous biodiversity. This threshold is mandated by the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement 2013 (CRPS). In plain English, no net loss translates to no "reasonably measurable" reduction in:
- diversity of indigenous species
- population sizes (aside from natural fluctuation)
- natural range inhabited by the species
- the range and ecological health and functioning of groups of species, community types and eco systems.
Plan change 18 introduces farm biodiversity plans as a mechanism for achieving protection of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of fauna while also enabling rural development. Farm biodiversity plans are voluntary and may prove to be a useful tool where resource consent is required to authorise new development. The Council has pitched farm biodiversity plans as a collaborative process between Council and landowner however a policy direction for expert identification of significant biodiversity values comes as another cost to ultimately be borne by the farming community.
Plan change 18 still provides for permitted activity indigenous vegetation clearance including clearance for the purpose of maintenance and repair of existing farming infrastructure, for compliance with the Regional Pest Management Strategy and where clearance is proposed within an area of "improved pasture". The definition of improved pasture is complex and careful assessment will be required to ensure land on which vegetation clearance is proposed meets two criterions – historic enhancement/ modification for the purpose of livestock grazing and dominance in cover and composition of exotic pasture species.
The Environment Court has declared that the provisions of plan change 18 have legal effect within the Mackenzie Basin subzone from the date of notification. This means that any vegetation clearance (not authorised by resource consent or certificate of compliance or reliant on existing use rights) needs to comply with the new rules from the date of notification – 20 December 2017.
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