Address To Sustainable Management Fund Seminar On land, Water And Environmental Indicators

  • Simon Upton

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

You have come here to talk about how we manage our land and water, and how we track what is happening in our environment. I expect it will be a useful and practical discussion. I don't want to hold up that valuable process any longer than I have to.

Briefly, then I want to outline the Government's thinking behind the indicators programme.

Good environmental management is not something that the Government can do itself - except in a small way in its own day to day activities.

Our job is to put in place the frameworks, through laws and regulations, that will help promote good environmental management. Through the Ministry for the Environment the Government gives advice, develops guidelines and writes case studies that will encourage good practice.

But, at the end of the day it is the farmers, the foresters, the businesses in our communities which will do the environmental management. Councils have the sometimes unenviable task of making sure it happens.

The Waikato, of course, is a region in which I take a very close interest. It's my home. So I was very pleased last month to launch Environment Waikato's first State of the Environment Report, and a few weeks later the environmental report for Manawatu-Wanganui.

Local government 'state of the environment' reports are essential to help communities understand what is happening in their environment and to gauge how effectively council policies are working. They complement the national programme that the Ministry for the Environment is developing, in partnership with councils and other agencies, to monitor the state of New Zealand's environment.

You will hear more about that programme from Ministry staff when you discuss environmental performance indicators tomorrow. We regard this programme as an essential tool in gathering comprehensive national information on the state of our environment. The lack of such information is one of the biggest gaps in environmental management in New Zealand at present.

For politicians, national and local, there aren't many votes in it. But it's fundamental work that needs to be done. To make sensible environmental decisions, we badly need better information about the effects of our activities on the environment.

Huge quantities of information are pumped out each year to help economists monitor the health of the economy. They closely examine fluctuations in food prices, house prices, the Consumer Price Index and economic growth.

In comparison, those making decisions about the environment are poorly served in the quality of information they can draw on.

We are awash with anecdotal or fragmentary data but there is rarely enough to say anything authoritative about whether we've stopped the rot, we're making progress or we are still trading on a reputation that can't be justified.

Data gathering has developed throughout the country in a haphazard fashion. The vast majority of environmental monitoring is not coordinated or standardised across the nation. As a result national environmental information is often difficult to assemble.

The Environmental Performance Indicators Programme is addressing this need. Environmental indicators are important because they enable us to detect environmental change through regular monitoring of a few symptoms or signs of change.

To be useful nationally, indicators need to be measured using standardised methods and protocols. We are focusing on sets of core indicators, corresponding to each of the priority areas identified in the Environment 2010 Strategy.

The Indicators Programme encourages collaboration between the monitoring programmes of councils and other resource management agencies. In this way, common techniques can be developed, and research and planning can be better targeted and coordinated.

First to be implemented are indicators of air, fresh water, land, ozone and climate change.

Next to be implemented will be indicators for the marine environment, waste, hazardous substances and terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity. Later will come energy, hazardous substances, and pests, weeds and diseases.

We intend to have a tool-box of core environmental performance indicators available for use by the year 2000. Then we will begin to have the really useful information at our fingertips that will enable us - and councils - to track progress and modify policies so that we can be sure they encourage good environmental management.

Environment Waikato's work on information management is amongst the best in the country among local government. Its environmental report is comprehensive, attractive and easy to read. But it makes sober reading in parts, especially when it comes to the state of our land and water.

As I said at the launch of the Waikato report, water quality is a key indicator of sustainability.

Yes, we have made some real progress in improving water quality in our rivers.

But we also know that plenty of work remains to be done. In many ways, we've been doing the easy bits so far with point-source discharges. The next steps are more difficult as the sources are more diffuse and they involve all New Zealanders.

Take the lower Waikato River as an example. We know that it is often not suitable for swimming because of high levels of disease-causing organisms. We know that farm run-off is the most important source of contamination. With 680,000 head of cattle in the Waikato and Waipa districts producing as much waste as 10 million people, farm run-off is a big problem.

It's not a few pipes or factories to clean-up or police, it's thousands of unfenced riverbanks on thousands of farms.

At the national level, the State of New Zealand's Environment 1997 tells us that 52% of our land area is devoted to agriculture. Pastoral agriculture is our main land use - we have 13 sheep and 3 cattle for every person in our country. With such a massive chunk of our land area used for agricultural purposes, it is inevitable that environmental policymakers are looking hard at the impacts of primary production on paddocks, hillsides and waterways.

We know that the primary production that has sustained our country for generations has not come without a significant cost to the environment.

Any strategy to safeguard the New Zealand environment must, necessarily, involve landowners as well as the community at large.

These are the people in the front line - the farmers, the land users, the land owners.

At the end of the day, it's in their interest to put the environmental work in. It is not just future generations of 'townies' that stand to benefit, at stake is the future prosperity of New Zealand agriculture.

In a world where the consumers who do have money to spend are increasingly concerned about their own health and safety and that of their families, it would be foolish to underestimate the importance of environmental quality as a selling point.

How are we going to maintain the perceptions of New Zealand that make our products stand out from the crowd? How are we going to justify our claims? Because, believe me, we will have to more and more. Consumers the world over continue to enjoy greater access to information. Where it's not available, they will demand it.

Image is not our only concern.

We all know that the roots of our economy lie deep in the productive sectors of farming, forestry and fisheries.

While these enterprises often seek to harness nature and limit its diversity, they also rely on healthy ecosystems for their prosperity.

The proper management of New Zealand's land and water resources will ensure that our capital base is protected for the future. We don't need eroded land sliding off our hillsides, or urban and rural run-off polluting our rivers.

And land managers need to remember that they are the key to preventing this.

Which is why the topic of this seminar - sharing experience in land and water management - is significant and timely.

Good environmental management will happen because people like yourselves - Landcare groups, farming organisations, business organisations like the Waikato Environmental Business Network - share information, look at practical ways of doing things better, and work with councils and community groups to make things happen.

A lot of academic theory about sustainable management will not take landowners very far. Technical guidelines about water quality may help the water manager at the council, but alongside that the farmer with a stream running through his or her land needs advice and practical help.

That is why the Government recognises the need not just for policies and technical guidance for councils but also for practical tools to help farmers, and small businesses and community groups.

Two of those practical forms of support are represented here today.

The New Zealand Landcare Trust was established in 1996 with the support of Federated Farmers, Federated Mountain Clubs, Fish & Game NZ, Women's Division Federated Farmers, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Federation of Maori Authorities and the Maruia Society.

The Government has provided funding of more than $1 million over the past three years to help train landcare facilitators and encourage the establishment of landcare groups. The Trust is also helping people on the land get the information they need to deal with land management issues, and access resources beyond the local community.

Landcare Groups are about good environmental management in action. I was pleased to see one strong supporter of this concept, David Craig of Waiuku, recognised this month with a Green Ribbon Award for outstanding contributions to the environment. Mr Craig was nominated by the coordinator of his local Landcare group, who felt that the effort he put into that group, helping new groups, and sustainable land management on his own property ought to be acknowledged.

The other practical form of support is the reason for this seminar - the Sustainable Management Fund.

Since it was established four years ago, the Sustainable Management Fund has contributed more than $20 million to more than 220 projects around the country. Key criteria to secure SMF support are community need for the project and the results being freely available to those who can make use of them. This seminar is one way of sharing the results of those projects so that they will have national rather than local benefit.

The whole idea is to encourage practical action by sharing tools and methods with those who can use them.

I hope that you will take hold of the projects that are being presented here, turn them upside down and shake them a bit. Ask yourself, what did they learn from the process? What else would they like to do? Will it work for you in a different environment, with a different group of people?

We hope that you will also think about the Sustainable Management Fund itself.

Is it delivering the results that will help you make a difference? Is the information getting out to the people who can use it? Are there things that central government could do, in the way we decide priorities, in the way we set requirements for the projects we fund, that will help us all get better value from this funding?

If you have ideas, the Ministry staff at this seminar would like to hear from you.

It is this process of sharing, and exploring, of seeking advice and tapping into expertise, that will help us all to make a difference on the land and in the water.