Wetlands gain better protection

16 Aug 2012

 Our long-running legal action in the Environment Court has been successful in establishing policies and rules for better protection of wetlands on the West Coast.

The court decisions mean there will be much improved criteria for judging the significance of West Coast wetlands, better objectives and policies for wetland management and new rules to control earthworks, vegetation clearance and other activities in significant wetlands.

The West Coast Regional Council has said it will include the new provisions resulting from the Environment Court proceeding into its new Land and Water Plan.  

In 2009, Forest & Bird appealed the West Coast Regional Council’s wetlands management provisions because they did not provide appropriate protection for West Coast wetlands, particularly those that would be classed as significant under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

 Forest & Bird Solicitor Erika Toleman, who has been leading the case on our behalf, says the case was important. While 90 percent of wetlands throughout New Zealand have been cleared since European settlement, a higher proportion of wetlands have remained intact on the West Coast.

The Environment Court’s first decision in 2010 was to agree with Forest & Bird – and our allies in the case the Department of Conservation and Friends of Shearers Swamp – that criteria in the regional council’s Land and Riverbed Plan were not appropriate for judging if a wetland was significant. The court largely agreed with Forest & Bird’s preferred criteria.

In January 2012 the court confirmed that changes were needed to the council plan’s objectives and policies for wetlands to strengthen protection and better reflect the purpose of the RMA.

Mediation during the first half of this year resulted in all the parties agreeing to rules that would apply to activities on significant West Coast wetlands. The new controls mean resource consents would be needed for some activities in significant wetlands.

Despite the big investment in time and money, Forest & Bird’s lengthy legal action has been worthwhile. The significant wetlands of the West Coast should now have appropriate protection as a result of this lengthy and expensive campaign.