“Call to action” on Southland’s environment

Environment Southland welcomes the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ today as an opportunity to keep the need for improving the environment at the forefront of people's minds.

The report  takes a whole system approach to look at a wide range of issues, from how our native plants, animals and ecosystems are faring to the activities we are doing that are causing urban and rural pollution.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said that while the report paints a less than ideal picture of New Zealand’s environment, it was a good “call to action” and reminder that the need to do more is urgent.

“Here in Southland, we have our challenges, but we are on the right path. There are many examples of people, industries and organisations coming together to improve the environment. We need to maintain and build on that momentum,” Mr Phillips said.

Environment Southland recognises the complexity of the environment and our outcomes reflect this: Managing access to quality resources, diverse ways to make a living, empowered and resilient communities, and communities expressing their diversity. The approach to achieving them focuses on sharing knowledge, engaging and communicating with Southlanders, and acknowledging the interconnectedness of the environment.”

The council’s top priority is to maintain and improve Southland’s freshwater and land, and one way that is being achieved is through the People, Water and Land programme - Te Mana o te Tangata, te Wai, te Whenua. This programme is in partnership with Te Ao Marama Inc. (the environmental arm of Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku) with the vision of ‘inspiring change to improve Southland’s water and land’ and is focused on bringing people together to lead change.  

Environment Southland has a number of initiatives underway to improve water quality and land use. We continue to support farmer-driven catchment groups and land care groups who have been leading positive on-the-ground action for a number of years, with more than 30 groups currently active across Southland.

One of those initiatives is in the Aparima river catchment, where six farmer-led catchment groups have come together to work on the Aparima Community Environment (ACE) project supported by industry, local and central government, and community groups. Environment Minister David Parker recently commended the ACE project as a positive example of how industry, councils and central government can work together to support farmers for positive change.Environment Southland’s land sustainability team has also put a strong emphasis on preparing farm environment plans and supporting landowners to move towards good land management practices.

To date, 806 farm plans covering 330,518 hectares have been completed, with focus activities including nutrient management, intensive winter grazing and riparian management, which all contribute to improving water quality.

Mirroring the sentiment of the report to acknowledge the connection of water and land across the environment is the essence of the People, Water and Land programme which takes a ‘ki uta ki tai - from the mountains to the sea’ approach that recognises the need to consider the environment in its entirety.

“What we do in one part of the environment can have consequences in another and the New River Estuary is an example of how both urban and rural activity – past and present – has had a negative impact. It also emphasises the need for a collective response through a mountains to the sea approach to improve the situation,” said Mr Phillips.

“Education is another area where we can have a positive impact now and into the future, and the Enviroschools programme is one great way for achieving that.”

The programme supports children and young people to plan, design and implement sustainability actions that are important to them and their communities. There are now more than 1,000 Enviroschools nationwide, encompassing over 260,000 children and young people, their whānau and teachers. In Southland, the programme is coordinated by Environment Southland in partnership with Kindergartens South, and supported by funding from Southland District Council, Invercargill City Council and Gore District Council. 

The report also highlights the significant impact that introduced species can have on our ecosystems and biodiversity. The council has long had a focus on biosecurity and has coordinated its biodiversity efforts with other agencies in recent years, with a view to enhancing and protecting native species and ecosystems.

In recent years we have introduced the Fiordland Marine Pathway plan, a first of its kind, in conjunction with our partners the Fiordland Marine Guardians, Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conversation and Ngai Tahu. The plan includes a clean vessel pass system to stop the introduction of pests hitching a ride on boat hulls into the area’s pristine waters. It has had good uptake and won the New Zealand Biosecurity Supreme Award among others late last year.

There are many other initiatives including our very successful Possum Control Area programme where we support land managers to work together in adjoining properties to control possums; and our longstanding biocontrol programme where we facilitate the distribution and population growth of biocontrol agents on properties across Southland.

We also support many other groups who are doing a lot of great work with animal and plant pest control, school and community groups to plant native species, landowners to identify and preserve remnants of native forest on their properties through our High Value Area programme. Recently we consulted on a proposed pest management plan and biosecurity strategy, which will set the future direction of biosecurity and biodiversity for Southland.

“We all want a thriving Southland and ensuring our natural resources are being used sustainably is essential to achieving this. The Ministry’s environment report is a timely reminder that we all have a role to play in ensuring our natural resources are in good shape and that we need to keep building on all the good work already underway. The council’s stepping up our People, Water and Land programme as part of that challenge. For Southland to thrive everyone needs to be part of the solution.”