We recognise that the environment is our foundation - a healthy natural environment is essential to our health and wellbeing and we all have a duty to care for it. The challenge of climate change has made this work all the more important. The proposed activity detailed below affirms our commitment towards improving and protecting Nelson’s environment.

The proposed budgets vary from year to year, but in 2021/22 we propose to invest $18.2 million in environmental activity, with a particular focus on freshwater management and monitoring required by the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, biodiversity management, responding to biosecurity threats and data management and reporting. This budget for environmental activity is proposed to increase to $20.4 million per year (including inflation) by 2031.

Forest Regeneration on Council Conservation and Landscape Reserves

Council owns over 10,000 hectares of conservation and landscape reserves. These reserves are Nelson’s jewels and the backdrop to the City. Our Conservation and Landscape Reserve Management Plan 2009 has a goal to protect indigenous vegetation, habitats and ecosystems and, where appropriate, restore degraded vegetation, habitats and ecosystems.

Council’s Landscape Reserves are at risk from invasive pest plants (weeds), particularly vine weeds, and as part of developing our Regional Pest Management Plan many people from our community submitted on the importance of getting these smothering weeds under control. As a result of this feedback from the community Council has developed Ecological Restoration Plans for these areas, and is now seeking the funding to implement those plans.

The Ecological Restoration Plans identify that an intensive weed ‘knockdown’ period is needed to allow for the protection and regeneration of the vegetation in the reserves and halt the loss of existing biodiversity areas. This initial investment will allow for lower cost maintenance activity in future years to keep the pest plants under control. If a slower and less intensive approach is taken, the pest plants can come away again each season and it becomes difficult and expensive to make real progress. We intend to use both mechanical removal and ‘cut and paste’ gel application methods to combat weeds.

Controlling the pest plants is important for several reasons. It prevents the weeds from smothering old growth trees and destroying the canopy cover, which in turn means that future weed growth is supressed by the protected canopy. A healthy canopy also reduces the impact of heavy rainfall. The leaves slow the rate at which the rain hits the ground, which can be an important factor in helping our waterways to respond to extreme rainfall events.

Pest plant control also reduces the seed source that can spread weeds to neighbouring land and impact on new plantings. Council invests significantly in new native plantings, and weed control on adjacent land will reduce the risk to those plantings. Likewise, if weeds are controlled then forest regeneration can occur without the need to plant new trees. As long as there is healthy forest nearby the trees will grow by themselves and all we have to do is to make sure they have a chance. Supporting the growth of forest by planting new trees, protecting the trees we have, and allowing for forest regeneration is an important part of Council’s actions to help mitigate climate change.

As part of looking at its weed control approach generally Council has considered whether it could cease use of glyphosate herbicide and replace it with a mix of methods which could include mulch, mechanical, steam/foam and plant-based herbi- cides. As these alternative methods require three to four times the budget, Council has instead worked to reduce use of glyphosate through increased mulching and grazing, and has allocated resources to develop a Glyphosate Policy in 2021/22.

As well as biodiversity gains, caring for these reserves has significant wellbeing benefits for our community. Nelsonians place a high value on the visual and recreational values of the Grampians, Tantragee and Botanical Hill Reserves that form the city backdrop, and the environmental health of these areas is closely linked to the wellbeing of the people who love these places.

This funding also has the potential to generate local jobs for our community. The proposed increase in service levels will result in some new jobs immediately, increasing as the budget increases. This will provide an important pipeline of long term employment opportunities for the ecological restoration workforce being trained through the two–five year Jobs for Nature projects underway in the region, such as Project Mahitahi.

Council is a partner in the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance and delivery of landscape scale biodiversity outcomes is a key outcome for the Alliance. Council’s financial commitment to undertake important kaitiakitanga on its own land signals to our partners including iwi, that we are committed to delivering on these key biodiversity outcomes and restoring our natural landscapes. This financial commitment also has the potential to leverage additional funding from Government through initiatives such as Jobs for Nature.

Current funding for pest plant control is around $250,000 per year on average, which has not been sufficient to manage pest plants, especially vine species including Old Man’s Beard, Banana Passionfruit, and Climbing Asparagus. We propose to include $250,000 in 2021/22, $669,000 in 2022/23, rising to $1.7 million by 2027/28 and then inflation adjusted for the rest of the Long Term Plan.

We expect the investment in pest plant control to make a real difference. How much of a priority is protecting biodiversity through pest plant management to you? Do you support this major investment or would you prefer that we progress this project more slowly with a saving of $5.7 million on rates but a significantly reduced outcome for biodiversity protection?

This funding is for widespread pest plant control work on Council land – totalling $11.5 million over the next 10 years, with many significant benefits to both biodiversity and the wellbeing of our community.

What are the alternatives?

Council considered the alternative of a reduced investment in this Plan for the weed control programme, which would result in delivery over a longer timeframe. Reducing, by 50%, the investment on weed control results in a $5.7 million saving on rates but with significantly reduced protection of our biodiversity.

Over the next 10 years biosecurity management will become increasingly important as our climate changes and allows new organisms to make their home in Nelson. Biosecurity management means responding to any plant, animal or microbial pest that should not be there. Responses range from public education through to eradication for some pests. Council needs to manage pests specified in the Tasman-Nelson Regional Pest Management Plan, respond to any incursions of new organisms, and manage biosecurity threats to its own assets. We propose to include an average of $45,000 per year in the Long Term Plan for dealing with new freshwater, marine and terrestrial pests as they arise.

Project Mahitahi is a collaborative programme of work, co-designed and co-governed by Council and iwi, which will restore the ecosystem of the Maitai/Mahitahi Valley. Project Mahitahi aims to restore two hectares of wetland ecosystems, carry out widespread pest plant control, work with the community to establish a trapping network to protect native fauna, and plant at least 125,000 native trees.

The total government funding of $3.7 million for this project will also provide over 50 local jobs over the next five years, assisting with COVID-19 recovery. The Ministry for Primary Industries will support planting projects. Council is contributing $627,500 from existing funding for the Healthy Streams, Nelson Nature and Sustainable Land Management programmes.

This government investment will include weed knockdown on Council, iwi and private land in the Mahitahi (Maitai) catchment, so that at the end of the project only a maintenance budget will be needed, which is included in the proposed pest plant funding discussed above. Project Mahitahi will also train a number of people in ecological restoration techniques, who will then be available to undertake similar work on other Council reserves in the future.

Several important new government policy changes which came into force towards the end of 2020 will increase Council’s obligations for freshwater management and alter the way Council carries out some of its activities. They will impact service delivery across many areas of Council (science and environment, planning, consents, compliance, infrastructure, transport, and parks and facilities). The planned changes are predicted to cost Council approximately $6.3 million across the freshwater planning, compliance and science activities over the next 10 years.

These changes are part of a future focused package to improve freshwater throughout New Zealand, and are being considered by councils around the country. Although we are required to make changes through this legislation, there are also benefits for our community in the form of improved freshwater health and greater collaboration in the management of this valuable resource. Some of the changes will mean that we can see more clearly what is working and what needs to change.

In addition to the new freshwater policy, a draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biosecurity has also been developed and is expected to come into force during 2021. Anticipated changes will require a focus on identifying, monitoring and protecting more of Nelson’s significant biodiversity, and will increase Council’s statutory obligations for managing indigenous biodiversity. The pest plant funding discussed above will help us to meet those obligations, along with other existing programmes such as Nelson Nature which focus on wider biodiversity management including predator control.

The Draft Whakamahere Whakatū Nelson Plan will become the resource management plan for managing how Nelson grows and develops, and for protecting our natural environment. Council is currently undertaking a review of all of its plans developed under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), including the Nelson Regional Policy Statement, Nelson Air Quality Plan and Nelson Resource Management Plan. The Nelson Plan will integrate all of these into one document. Council is allocating $12.08 million over the next 10 years to further develop and then implement the Nelson Plan. The programme and budget are expected to change over the coming three years as the Government introduces new planning legislation. These reforms are likely to impact the scope, content and timing of the Nelson Plan, but it is prudent to retain the budget at this point. Future Annual Plans and Long Term Plans will be updated as the legislation is enacted and timeframes for local authorities are confirmed.

We expect the investment in weed control to make a real difference. How much of a priority is protecting biodiversity through weed management to you? Do you support this major investment or would you prefer that we progress this project more slowly with a saving of $5.7 million on rates but a significantly reduced outcome for biodiversity protection?