New Ministry of Environment rules strengthen protection of wetlands.

By Wendy Colville on 07th March 2022

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© Stefan Marks

Ecologist and deputy chair of the National Wetlands Trust, Melanie Dixon, spoke to the PFWRA group about the importance of wetlands and noted that new Ministry of Environment rules came into effect in 2020 which strengthen protection of wetlands.

These regulations require council notification when anyone plans to make changes to greater than 10% of the wetland area or more than 500 sq metres. That includes planting and restoration. A Permitted Activity Notification is required, available to download on Auckland Council’s website. It’s estimated more than half of remaining wetlands are still in private ownership.

Peat wetlands are carbon sinks, and New Zealand Forest & Bird rates their restoration as a key strategy to mitigate climate change. Peat is formed over millennia in wetlands, where plants incompletely decompose in waterlogged soils with little oxygen - an anaerobic process.

“Peat wetlands in particular are super carbon sinks. They hold twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests combined, yet cover only about 3% of earth’s land surface, ” says Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen.

Forest & Bird would like to see more action.

"The government needs to introduce a plan to protect and recharge Aotearoa’s wetlands," says Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen. “The majority of the drained peatland in Aotearoa is used for intensive farming. Dried peatland emits carbon and is responsible for up to 6% of agricultural emissions in New Zealand.”

If peat dries out, it also represents a fire threat. The Northland fire burning in Kaimaumau this summer continued to smoulder in underground peat.

“Wetlands must be wet for them to do their magic. We could save as much as two million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year if we re-wet the peat,” says Ms Cohen. 

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Did you know?

  • Sandringham and Eden Park were once a significant wetland, named in the 19th C as Cabbage Tree Swamp for their extensive forest of cordyline australis. In 1877 Cabbage Tree Swamp residents successfully lobbied to have the road’s name changed to Kingsland Road. Drainage and development have almost erased all trace of this wetland today.
  • In the UK sales of peat compost to gardeners will be banned from 2024. The UK government will give close to NZ $100m to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, about 1% of the UK’s total.
  • Christchurch was once an extensive coastal wetland, thickly forested with swamp species. Much of this forest was burnt off by the first inhabitants and when Europeans arrived the area was mainly tussock and swamp. Today, the ‘red zone’ which was devastated by liquefaction after the earthquakes is returning to a wetland.