Resource Management Act: RMA Link: Topics: Details

The RMAlink project aims to make community participation in all Resource Management Act processes more straightforward and less time-consuming. More effective participation from those with a concern for the environment will contribute towards improving environmental outcomes nationwide.

Topics: Details

Hosted by:

Wellington Community Network
Subject Biodiversity and Habitats

Text Biodiversity Protection

The RMA provides for indigenous biological diversity in the following sections;

  • A definition of biological diversity is defined in Section 2;
    Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms, and the ecological complexes of which they are a part, including diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

  • Section 30(1)(c)(iiia) states that it is a function of regional councils to control the use of land for the purpose of "maintaining and enhancing ecosystems in water bodies and coastal water".

  • Section 30(1)(ga) states that it is a function of regional councils to establish, implement and review objectives policies and methods for maintaining indigenous biodiversity.

  • Section 31(b)(iii) states that it is the function of territorial councils to control the effects of the use of land on the maintenance of indigenous biological diversity.
A draft national policy statement on biodiversity is expected to be available for public consultation later in 2004. Details on its progress can be found at It will give guidance to local and regional authorities on biodiversity protection. To date, there are no national environmental standards in relation to biodiversity protection.

The development of a comprehensive set of national environmental standards (Sections 43-44) would assist in biodiversity protection. This would give clear direction to local and regional authorities on minimum allowable standards for environmental quality, ie the bottom line.

Policy guidance at national level is provided by The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (2000). This was prepared to meet New Zealands obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, signed in 1993. The Biodiversity and Private Land: Final report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee, August 2000, is also relevant. It contains proposals for managing biodiversity on land outside the conservation estate.

Major planning decisions can have a significant effect on biodiversity in a region. Big projects such as motorways cause large-scale habitat disturbance and fragmentation. Dams and irrigation schemes modify river habitats by altering water quality and flow volumes.

Regulatory Measures
District and regional plan rules are regulatory measures for protecting biodiversity under the RMA. Rules manage or limit the effects of land use activities on the environment. Examples are the standards set for discharges to water, or rules concerning earthworks, land disturbance and clearing of indigenous vegetation.

Well-planned and well-presented advocacy from environmental groups and concerned citizens is essential on district and regional plans. This helps to ensure that plans provide adequate control of activities and land uses that will degrade biodiversity.

Rules should be examined to see where bottom lines are set, and if adequate environmental protection will be achieved. The following is a short list of the most significant activities;

  • Forestry
  • Earthworks, quarrying
  • Removal of vegetation
  • Intensive farming and horticulture
  • Wetland modification
  • Subdivision, and resulting intensification
  • Water takes, discharges to waterways or land
When assessing a proposed plan, check the objectives and policies. Do they contain clear statements about the protection of biodiversity on both publicly and privately owned land? Are significant habitats listed for protection?

Note which land uses and activities are permitted, controlled, discretionary, non-complying or prohibited. Activity status will determine the level of control over activities, both current and future. Refer to the 'Notification' section for more explanation of activity status. The implications of plan rules can be complex. Working together with other groups, especially your local branch of Forest and Bird, and with DOC, can give access to expert advice.

The reference materials below contain best practice examples, and guidelines for regulatory measures.

Non-Regulatory Measures
A range of measures for biodiversity protection that are non-regulatory can be provided for in regional and district plans. These include;

  • Local authority direct action eg pest control funded by regional government as part of a robust regional biosecurity strategy.
  • Creation of reserves
  • Assistance-e.g provide resources (research, planning, plants, construction materials) for ecological restoration projects.
  • Environmental education programmes designed to raise awareness and change attitudes, targeted at specific groups of land users, or community-wide.
  • Incentives to motivate action, change behaviours or encourage adoption of best practice, e.g. Taranaki Regional Council assists landowners by preparing farm management plans that promote sustainable land management. (More information at
  • Financial Incentives The Local Government Rating Act 2002, makes provision for an authority to grant rates relief on sites such as habitat remnants on private land.
  • Adoption of best practice guidelines (ensure that these do in fact promote environmental best practice) eg NZS 4404:2003 Land Development and Subdivision Engineering This is a performance-based guide to best practice in land developments.
  • Integrated management whole catchment approaches Measures include providing support for Landcare groups (see Also providing leadership and resources for whole catchment approaches in which local government, landowners, iwi/hapu and agencies such as DOC form working partnerships. Environment Waikatos Clean Streams programme encourages and supports farmers efforts to reduce the impacts of farming on waterways. (This won the Resource Management Law Association Award for 2002. Summary in Resource Management Journal 2003, p7-13, or visit Environment Waikatos website, at
  • Property agreements - Local and regional authorities can assist landowners in the process of protecting habitats and landscape resources through covenants. This can be done through the QE11 Trust, or under the RMA, Sections 108-9. Covenants can be negotiated with land developers during the subdivision process as a condition of the consent.
The success of non-regulatory measures requires ongoing commitment from the regional and local authorities involved. Sustained political support and financial support are both needed. The Local Government Long Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) process becomes important here, as communities can ask for financial resources to be allocated to these measures by making submissions each year on the annual plan, and every 3 years on the LTCCP.

Community Acceptance of Biodiversity Protection Measures
Inevitably, tensions arise in communities over biodiversity measures. There can be adverse reaction to plan rules from landowners, who consider rules on activities such as earthworks, land disturbance or vegetation clearance to be overly restrictive on their property rights. On the other hand, outcomes will be uncertain if biodiversity protection relies too heavily on voluntary measures and landowners' discretion. Through the process of plan review, communities must negotiate a balance that is both politically acceptable, and effective in achieving good outcomes. Active environmental advocacy is a vital component in this process.


Peart, R (2004) The Community Guide to the Resource Management Act 1991
Environmental Defence Society, Auckland.
P96-100 Discusses biodiversity conservation. Includes some significant Environment Court cases.

Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment (2000) The NZ Biodiversity Strategy. ISBN 0-478 21919-9
Strategy prepared to meet obligations under the 1993 UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Vision, goals and principles for biodiversity management at a national level. Addresses indigenous and significant introduced species, terrestrial aquatic and marine environments, and Treaty of Waitangi issues.
Available: Copies available from DOC, or online at

MFE (2000) Biodiversity and Private Land Final Report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Biodiversity and Private Land.
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington. ISBN 0-478-24011-2
Recommendations for government actions that will assist local government and communities to effectively address biodiversity issues.

PCE (2002) Weaving Resilience into our Working Lands: Future Roles for Native Plants on Private Land.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington. ISBN 0 908804 99 7
Discusses possible strategies for promoting preservation of existing native plants on private land, and increasing the planting of native species, to enhance biodiversity.

Te Puni Kokiri (1994) Biodiversity and Maori.
Te Puni Kokiri, Wellington.
Discusses particular relevance of maintaining biodiversity for Maori, and Maori property rights in this area.

Willis, Gerard (2003) Guideline on Strategic Planning for Biodiversity.
A report prepared for Action Bio-Community on using LTCCPs to promote better biodiversity management. Discusses the role of local government in protecting biodiversity, the use of non-regulatory measures, and leadership in establishing local government/community partnerships. It has useful suggestions on how to build interest and support for better resourcing of biodiversity preservation.
Available; Online at www quality under Guidance on Planning Topics and Indigenous Biodiversity Try Local Government New Zealand, PO Box 1214 Wellington, for printed copies.

Harris, R. (ed) (2004) Handbook of Environmental Law.
Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand (Inc.), Wellington. ISBN 0-9597851-8-3
Chapter 15 p385-408. Biodiversity and Sustainability, by Mark Bellingham. Also,
Chapter 17, part 2, p 439-442 Protecting Biodiversity on Private Land Through Agreement.

Web-Based Resources

Resources: Action Biocommunity is the website of a Local Government NZ project, building capacity for biodiversity preservation. All types of resources, including case studies, reference material, toolbox, contacts, and current news from the projects Regional Biodiversity Forums.

Resources: See under Key Issues for biodiversity information web-page

Resources: The Landcare Research site has material on current research on biodiversity. Biodiversity newsletter, Te Taio available online.

Resources: Website of the NZ Landcare Trust. Information on landcare, sustainable farming biodiversity preservation and integrated catchment management. Contact details and news from 204 landcare groups throughout New Zealand.

Resources: Site of the NZ Ecological Restoration Network. A large and active network of government, non-government and community organizations throughout New Zealand working together on restoration projects. Directory of groups, extensive toolbox of practical information on carrying out restoration projects, including funding sources.

Resources: See Biodiversity section under Guidance on Planning Topics. Useful summary, further references, case law.


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