Biodiversity

Some of our most rare and threatened ecosystems and species are now found only on private land; their long term survival will depend largely on the actions of landowners who will need support from all levels of government, as well as the wider public. The importance of private landowners protecting biodiversity was highlighted in the five-year review of the Biodiversity Strategy. This identified the on-going loss of rare and threatened biodiversity from private lands as a significant challenge that still needs to be addressed.

With increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of biodiversity as an essential contributor of ecosystem services, there has been a subsequent interest in the role that native habitats and species play within productive land environments. Focus now needs to be placed on managing invasive pests, incorporating native species into land management practices where possible, and enhancing functional agricultural biodiversity.

Management of biodiversity on productive land is carried out at both a regional and local level within the framework established by the RMA, including potentially the proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity. This regulatory framework is discussed in the biodiversity section of this website. The following paragraphs describe voluntary initiatives.

Land covenants

There are a range of different covenants that can be applied to productive land to protect biodiversity. Voluntary land covenants are a contract between a landowner and a third party that prescribes the way the land will be managed. It is not simply about fencing off areas: in some areas, such as tussock lands, grazing can be carefully managed to provide good outcomes for biodiversity protection on productive land.

Some councils do not charge rates on land that has been covenanted which reduces the costs of protection for landowners. Where councils do charge rates for protected land, zero rating can be used to reduce the financial burden on farm owners who are protecting biodiversity for the benefit of the wider community. 4142

Land care groups

Local voluntary partnerships can make a substantial contribution to protecting and enhancing biodiversity locally. Local action for sustainable land management is a positive aspect of how New Zealand approaches management of productive land.

The Landcare Trust provides a portal for valuable information about biodiversity management on productive land. The Trust has recently produced a useful booklet called ‘Benefits of Biodiversity for Farmers’, which offers successful examples of farmers incorporating biodiversity into their land management practices.

Among the other resources produced by the Trust is a guide for sustainably managing land and enhancing biodiversity for landowners in the Kaimai Mamaku catchments. This guide focuses on some of the best management practices that can be easily incorporated into productive land management, as well as guiding farm owners in planning for longer term investments, and identifying where they can get assistance to realise these.

Incorporating biodiversity into land management practices

Biodiversity has many direct and indirect commercial production benefits, as described earlier in this chapter. Research into the value that native species provide, through supporting essential ecosystem services to productive land, has been undertaken over a number of years. For example, recent research has demonstrated that the total economic value of the biological control of pests, soil formation and mineralistaion of plant nutrients is significantly higher in land farmed organically than land farmed non-organically. 4143

Work currently being undertaken at Lincoln University is investigating options to re-design a number of productive landscape features, including integrating stock shelter, bioenergy sources, and livestock parasite resistance. It is believed that these innovations will deliver an increase in farm income of at least eight per cent by 2020. One area of particular focus is the ecosystem services and biodiversity value offered by shelterbelts, which have traditionally been planted in non-native species. By planting shelterbelts in appropriate native species it is believed that a number of benefits can be realised, including:

  • Improved fire resistance
  • Reduction in management costs
  • Reduction in potential for weed invasions
  • Improved provision of ecosystem services
  • Improved pasture growth
  • Improved rates of carbon sequestration
  • Reduced wind exposure
  • Increased pollination
  • Additional habitat for other native species
  • Creation of vital wildlife corridors

A trial that has been underway at Kowhai Farm, Canterbury, for over a decade, has been introducing a number of measures to increase ecosystem services and improve the biodiversity of productive land.

Case Study - Kowhai Farm, Canterbury Region

In September 2000, a farm trial was developed at Kowhai Farm, a research farm at Lincoln, Canterbury. Kowhai Farm is a mixed cropping farm, where a number of measures have been introduced in efforts to increase the ecosystem services and improve biodiversity. Information signs were added to explain to visitors the importance of biodiversity to the production system.

The range of trees and shrubs planted on the farm were selected based on their role in providing ecosystem services, including suppression of weeds, shelter for stock, pollen and nectar for beneficial insects and reducing soil erosion. The first 18 months generally resulted in good progress in growth of the plantings, but a severe drought in the 2000/2001 summer season led to some losses which were carefully monitored. Because of these losses, nursery shelter species were planted to aid in the establishment of more permanent species. 4144

The paddock margin plantings proved to be an effective way to prevent perennial weeds from invading crops at the fence lines. A three metre-wide grass strip around the entire paddock was planted and managed using mechanical, hand-held weed-eaters rather than herbicides. Grasses were added in efforts to outcompete perennial weeds and linseed straw mulch was used to promote plant growth. These margins proved to be valuable refuges for beneficial insects.

A ‘beetle-bank’ was particularly effective at providing an over-wintering habitat and refuge for spiders and other beneficial insects, such as ground beetles. The ‘beetlebank’ showed beetle densities of over 500 per square metre as opposed to fewer than 20 per square metre on non-banked areas. 4145  From the ‘beetle-bank’ these insects are able to enter the adjacent paddock and feed on the pests.

Since the work to improve biodiversity at Kowhai Farm has been commenced, the farm has passed the threshold of full BIO-GRO status, New Zealand’s leading organic certifier with European Commission certification. This case study provides a positive example of how enhancing ecosystem services through biodiversity can add value to productive land.

Action

Value for land management

Impact on biodiversity values

Planting of native trees and shrubs

  • Provides shelter for stock and crops
  • Helps to suppress weeds
  • Helps to minimise erosion
  • Supports beneficial insects for pest control
  • Enhances pollination
  • Supports diversity of native species
  • Offers food supply for native birds and insects
  • Adds conservation value to land

Paddock margin maintenance using native species

  • Reduces cost of herbicides
  • Controls weeds by providing a barrier between crops
  • Production value of margins potentially increased
  • Supports beneficial insects for pest control
  • Reduces pollutants entering waterways and soil
  • Contributes to conservation values if using rare native grasses
  • Offers nesting sites for native birds
  • Provides a habitat for native insects

Set up permanent paddock ridges for beneficial insects

  • Establishes an ongoing pest control mechanism
  • Reduces costs of herbicides
  • Low maintenance required once established
  • Provides a habitat for native insects
  • Reduces pollutants entering waterways and soil
  • Increases species diversity of land
  • Provides food for native birds

Planting native flowering plants

  • Provides pollen and nectar to support insects that provide biological control of pests
  • Adds to visual quality of land
  • Provides food for native birds
  • Offers a habitat for native insects

Introducing native invertebrates

  • Improves quality of soil
  • Reduces need for chemical inputs
  • Improves organic carbon levels
  • Increases species diversity
  • Provides food for native birds

Case Study - Greening Waipara Project

The Greening Waipara project is focused on a grape growing region and is looking at the added value that can be provided by ecosystem services – such as soil fertility, biological pest control and wetlands, which filter vineyard effluent. All of these services are to be provided by growing species that were once common in the area. The project is underpinned by research by Lincoln University, a large number of local wine growers, the Hurunui District Council and Landcare Research.

The Biodiversity Strategy for the Canterbury Region notes that through this work a number of New Zealand native species are showing real promise as a potential companion to grapes; meaning they are offering effective new ecosystem services in what was previously an essentially monocultural system. In addition, some of the species are also considered to have a cultural value, so there is even more benefit gained by including them in the restoration work. Education and awareness-raising is an important part of the Greening Waipara project. Four vineyard biodiversity trails have been set up which offer the public interpretation and information about the biodiversity protection work. Trails have been developed at Mud House, Pegasus Bay, Waipara Springs and Torlesse Wines where the walkways lead visitors through the native plants and vines so they can interact with the biodiversity initiatives. They can see how pollination, pest control, weed suppression and reducing reliance on herbicides and pesticides all add value to the wineries, improve conservation values and support eco-tourism. 4154  The trails are highlighted by the local tourism organisation as a must-see destination.

Prior to its development as a grape-growing region with a monocultural landscape, the Waipara Valley was covered in native vegetation which supported a wide range of native species. This initiative has meant that the local community is reclaiming some of the landscape’s former biodiversity.

The project has inspired other wine growing regions, both in New Zealand and overseas, by showing what can be achieved in terms of biodiversity protection, whilst retaining an economically-viable operation.

Case Study - Biological control of insect pests

Agricultural and horticultural habitats can be manipulated to improve ecosystem services and function, including increasing the availability of pollen, nectar, alternative prey/hosts, or shelter for pests’ natural enemies. The conservation bio-control of pests in Australasian vines is an example of where this has been successfully introduced.

Biological control of Epiphyas postvittana, which is a common leafroller pest in New Zealand and Australian vineyards, can be achieved by planting flowering buckwheat. Buckwheat plants provide food and habitat sources for the parasitic wasp Dolichogenidea tasmanica, which is a natural enemy of the leafroller pest. Sowing some of the spaces in between the rows of vines with buckwheat has been shown in studies to reduce the prevalence of this pest by 50 per cent, which is a level where agrichemical sprays are not required, as determined by the New Zealand viticultural industry.

As a result, an investment of $2 per hectare each year in buckwheat seed, and minimal sowing costs, can lead to savings in annual variable costs of $250 per hectare per year in New Zealand. 4156

Developing indicators for managing biodiversity in agriculture

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, New Zealand is committed to implement a programme of work that seeks to achieve the objectives of the Convention. The Convention has recognised agricultural biodiversity as part of its programme, and accordingly, parties to the Convention are required to develop their own national strategies and develop resources to manage biodiversity on farmland. Some of the priority areas noted by the Convention are:

  • Pollinators: horticultural produce and the seed industry depend on pollinators
  • Soil biodiversity: nutrient cycling and soil health depend on functional soil biodiversity to support food, fodder and fibre production
  • Biodiversity to support natural pest control: biological control of key pests largely depends on natural enemies, parasitic wasps and predators
  • Crop genetic resources: plant breeding requires broad genetic resources to develop new lines for future production
  • Livestock genetic resources: genetic resources to future-proof the livestock industry against various biotic and abiotic stresses are required
  • Wild biodiversity on farmland: as two-thirds of land in New Zealand is under private ownership, this is the area that can protect wild biodiversity through public-private partnerships

To achieve these objectives, there is a need to develop national and regional indicators for biodiversity on farmland. 4157

Linking with the market

There has been steadily increasing demand for sustainably grown produce and farmed animals both within New Zealand and overseas. Sustainably-grown products often cost more than other products because of factors such as lower yields, more labour-intensive production and expensive materials. 4158  For these reasons, organic products seek premium prices in a market dominated by low commodity prices for agriculture and horticulture products. For example, organic beef and lamb attracts premiums of around 14 per cent over conventional equivalents. 4159  Linking with national and global markets, and marketing sustainably grown produce, can deliver premium prices for a farm.

  1. http://www.fedfarm.org.nz/n3011,90.html

  2. Sandhu H S, S D Wratten and R Cullen, 2010, ‘The role of supporting ecosystem services in conventional and organic arable farmland’, Ecological Complexity, 7, 302-310, available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1476945X10000255 Sandhu H S, S D Wratten and R Cullen, 2010, ‘Organic agriculture and ecosystem services’, Environmental Science and Policy, 13, 1-7

  3. Ministry for the Environment, n.d., ‘Biodiversity on farmland: Good management practices’, A report on three years’ research on the enhancement of biodiversity on farmland, Ministry for the Environment (partnering with Agriculture New Zealand, Selwyn Sustainable Agriculture Society, Heinz-Wattie and Lincoln University), Wellington pg 11

  4. Ministry for the Environment, n.d., ‘Biodiversity on farmland: Good management practices’, A report on three years’ research on the enhancement of biodiversity on farmland, Ministry for the Environment (partnering with Agriculture New Zealand, Selwyn Sustainable Agriculture Society, Heinz-Wattie and Lincoln University), Wellington pg 19

  5. http://bioprotection.org.nz/greening-waipara

  6. Sandhu H S, S D Wratten and R Cullen, 2010, ‘The role of supporting ecosystem services in conventional and organic arable farmland’, Ecological Complexity, 7, 302-310, available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1476945X10000255 Sandhu H S, S D Wratten and R Cullen, 2010, ‘Organic agriculture and ecosystem services’, Environmental Science and Policy, 13, 1-7

  7. Goldstein J, G C Daily, J B Friday, P A Matson, R L Naylor and P Vitousek, 2006, ‘Business strategies for conservation on private lands: Koa forestry as a case study’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 10140–45

  8. http://maxa.maf.govt.nz/mafnet/rural-nz/sustainable-resource-use/organic-production/internationaldevelopments-in-organic-agriculture/index.htm

  9. http://maxa.maf.govt.nz/mafnet/rural-nz/sustainable-resource-use/organic-production/internationaldevelopments-in-organic-agriculture/index.htm

Last updated at 11:04AM on November 27, 2015