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Natural Character of the Marlborough Coast

Setting a benchmark in natural character assessment

Under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, local authorities are required to map, or otherwise identify at least, areas of high natural character in the coastal environment, including areas of ‘outstanding natural character’, a new, hitherto undefined term. When these new statutory requirements came in, aspects of the Marlborough District Council’s review of its Operative Resource Management documents were affected. At the time, local authorities had no guidance on how to undertake the necessary natural character assessments. The Council engaged Boffa Miskell to assist.

Boffa Miskell focused first on developing a robust methodology, which is set out in the final study report, the ‘Natural Character of the Marlborough Coast: Defining and Mapping the Marlborough Coastal Environment, 2014’. The report explains how to define the extent of the coastal environment, how to assess its natural character and how to determine ‘outstanding natural character’. In developing the methodology, our landscape planners drew on case law and more than 20 years’ experience in natural character assessments relevant to the Resource Management Act. It was also reviewed and vigorously debated with other experienced practitioners.

Boffa Miskell, with assistance predominantly from the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research and Lucas Associates then applied the methodology to mapping and assessing the natural character of Marlborough’s extremely varied coastal environment, at a range of scales from district-wide down to specific bays or inlets. The starting point was to understand and record the combination of abiotic (e.g. landforms or climate), biotic and experiential attributes that characterise and define each distinct area within the coastal environment. Nine coastal marine areas and seventeen coastal terrestrial areas were identified and described on this basis. The degree of natural character was then assessed. Areas of high, very high and outstanding natural character were mapped and the relevant values described to ensure clarity.

The maps and descriptive information provide more certainty about the locations of high coastal natural character areas and help decision-makers to assess whether or not proposed activities may have adverse effects on the coastal environment. Marlborough District Council will also use the study results to inform its resource management review.

The study has set a benchmark for local authorities and practitioners, with a methodology that can be applied throughout New Zealand.

The facts

Project teamJames Bentley
AwardsCategory Finalist for Landscape Planning and Environmental Studies, NZILA Resene Pride of Place Landscape Architecture Awards 2015