Last month, the Department of Conservation re-classified a number of New Zealand plants as 'threatened' (402) or 'at-risk' (851). Ecologist Ian Boothroyd, a senior principal and technical leader in our Auckland Office, examines how this change might affect Councils and developers.
Recent media reports have highlighted the revised list of threatened New Zealand plants published by the Department of Conservation. As might be expected, much attention has been given to the elevated threat status given to our iconic kauri (Agathis australis), which has shifted from Not Threatened to Threatened – Nationally Vulnerable. As the report states, this change in status reflects the concern that the spread of kauri dieback continues seemingly unabated and that there is, as yet, no known treatment for infected trees. There are now real fears that kauri may go extinct over large parts of its current range.
What has been less well publicised is the new classifications of indigenous Myrtaceae. Notably, the panel has designated all the New Zealand Myrtaceae previously considered to be Not Threatened as Threatened, and elevated the status of those previously assessed as At Risk to Threatened.
The Myrtaceae include the more commonly known manuka and kanuka, typically the dominant plants in the natural ecosystems referred to as scrub in New Zealand; and also the iconic coastal pohutukawa tree. The expert panel who undertakes the evaluations acknowledges that the elevated threat is a precautionary measure, due to the as-yet-unknown impact of myrtle rust on these native species. As with kauri dieback, there is currently no known effective treatment for myrtle rust.
As the Myrtaceae can form abundant stands of vegetation at sites where development of land is being considered, it raises the question of what this means for the developer. For one thing, the presence of a Threatened or At Risk species generally qualifies a site as ‘ecologically significant’ in terms of the Resource Management Act, according to criteria in most district and regional plans. It is unclear how regulatory authorities will approach the management and protection of these vegetated areas, as all Myrtaceae now meet this threat status.
Likewise, Myrtaceae often form a core foundation plant for landscape and mitigation planting. We don’t expect this to change but developers should be aware that they are dealing with a now-Threatened plant in their planning. The continued planting of threatened Myrtaceae is, no doubt, a beneficial thing; but specialist advice should be sought to consider the benefits and risks that might eventuate in any location.
Boffa Miskell have taken a proactive stance in understanding the implications of the new plant classifications and are in a strong position to offer advice and assistance with planting plans, and the sourcing and management of planting areas.
The new list of threatened indigenous vascular plants can be downloaded at: https://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/nztcs22entire.pdf
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9 July 2018