Environment report highlights serious land issues

A report on the state of the country’s land has highlighted the impact of urban sprawl, the loss of important wetlands and emerging problems associated with soil compaction.

The Our land 2018 report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ today, confirms the need for more action to improve land management, Environment Minister David Parker says.

“I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land.  Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils,” David Parker says.

He is taking steps to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on our most productive land.

“I have asked officials to start work on a National Policy Statement (NPS) for Versatile Land and High Class Soils.”

“We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too.”

Another major concern was the finding that 44 per cent of sites tested had low macroporosity levels – in layperson’s language, that the soil was likely to be compacted.

“Healthy soil is like a sponge, full of holes that can absorb air and water. When it is compressed it can’t absorb water, which makes it more drought prone and nutrients are more likely to run off into waterways,” David Parker says.

The report is one of the most comprehensive yet on the state of New Zealand’s land.

“It brings together a range of issues such as soil erosion and quality, biodiversity, urban growth and waste. The connections between those issues and other aspects of the environment, such as our waterways and climate, are clear to see,” David Parker says.

The report found that New Zealand loses around 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land.

Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land.

“The Government’s billion trees planting programme, which focuses on the ‘right tree, right place, right time’ will help.

“The report also confirms the continued loss of our limited wetlands, which contain some of our most precious biodiversity, and filter contaminants from land. We must do more to protect these.

“I had already asked officials to begin working on a more comprehensive freshwater national policy statement to address concerns about sediment, wetlands and estuaries.

“Finally, this report must spark a greater effort to build our knowledge of land, as it’s clear there are significant data gaps which must be filled,” David Parker says.

The report is available at: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/environmental-reporting/our-land-2018