Better Biodiversity planning paves the way for better Biodiversity Offsets

Even for the most avid, District Planning and council updates can be pretty dry. So try to hold on to your seat for this one…

But this Thursday evening The New Plymouth District Council were told that they needed to improve the way biodiversity was identified and accounted for in their District Plan. Luckily, they’re reviewing it this year. What timing.

In New Zealand, one way to identify significant biodiversity is by classifying it as a Significant Natural Area (SNA):

“SNAs are areas with significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats for indigenous fauna. The criteria include the threatened nature of local endemic species, the importance of the habitat, the rarity of the ecosystem, any exceptional element related to species abundance or habitat, buffering from or connectivity to other areas, and the extent of management required to ensure sustainability”

Once an area is considered an SNA, protections (including the option to offset) under the Resource Management Act kick it. It’s an NZ tool to: 1.  Help us identify which parts of our biodiversity are most valuable, and 2. Ensure there are protections in place once we know an area is so.

These two things are really important if we want to have a strong biodiversity offsetting, and maybe one day offset banking, system – agree where there important biodiversity is, and make sure you must account for it if you want to develop it.

New Zealand has adequate national-level policy and law that protects our Natural Values like biodiversity, but we lack the policy and planning at the regional and district level to really get stuck in. So each time our regional biodiversity policy gets stronger, that’s when our can offsets get stronger too. Edge-of-the-seat-stuff for me…..

For those still wanting your policy update – here’s the latest from New Plymouth:


The Environment Court last year said that while the Council was doing fine in respect to the SNA’s that were identified in their District Plan, it needed to do better for the areas that met SNA criteria, but weren’t actually listed as SNA’s in the plan. Read: more biodiversity needs to be covered.

At a simple level, that says that all the areas of biodiversity SNA-value under the New Plymouth District Plan should get the same standard of biodiversity sustainable use and conservation attention as each other – listed and identified or not.

There might be another way for policy buffs to explain it, but I think this is a step towards greater biodiversity policy coverage and making biodiversity into clearer and more concrete in planning structures.

Creating value for our biodiversity and having a clear and concrete planning structure is key to having an offsetting system that really works. It’s essential for offset banking too, by the way.

If you want to hear it straight from the source, here it is. If you think I got it wrong, tell me. I love this conversation.


P.S. Well done Mr Hodgetts from the Council: it’s not just about rules for biodiversity management, it’s about landowner incentives too. You list some important ones, but let’s see if we can’t find a way to make biodiversity and native vegetation management financially viable, not just break-even. 


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