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Biodiversity in the Wairarapa

This page combines biodiversity information for the three Wairarapa District Councils; Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa. Through grouping all the regions information in one place we hope it will:

  • Make it easier for you to find the information you want
  • Raise awareness about our regions amazing indigenous biodiversity
  • Provide links to projects in your area and information regarding how you can get involved
  • Provide links to agencies who can offer advice and assistance for funding, and
  • Facilitate in the sharing of knowledge, information and experiences.

Biodiversity describes the variety of all biological life or living things. It encompasses all the different species in a particular area including plants, animals, fungi, insects and micro-organisms, the genes each of these species contain, and the different habitats and ecosystems created by species such as wetlands, forest, streams, sand dunes, and estuaries.

Why is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity is New Zealand’s biological wealth. Much of the production of the New Zealand economy is based on the use of biological resources and the economy benefits from the services provided by healthy ecosystems. These include the production of raw materials (principally food from the sea and fiber from the land), purifying water, and decomposing waste, cycling nutrients, creating and maintaining soils, providing pollination and pest control and regulating local and global climates.

In other words, Biodiversity is essential for the healthy functioning of ecosystems. These ecosystems underpin the natural services vital for continued human existence and well-being. This includes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soils that provide fiber, food and timber.

New Zealand’s biodiversity is the inspiration for our national icons, the kiwi, silver fern and koru. No other country can claim these icons as theirs. These iconic species along with a large portion of our biodiversity are unique, or endemic, to New Zealand, which makes them special to New Zealand and to global biodiversity. These endemic species have a high conservation value because of their uniqueness and because they cannot be conserved in nature anywhere else in the world.

It also means if they are lost here, they are lost to the world, unlike many species in other countries. In New Zealand, about 90% of insects, 80% of trees, ferns and flowering plants, 25% of bird species, all 60 reptile species, four remaining frogs, and two species of bat are found nowhere else on earth. Only South Africa and Australia have as high levels of endemism.

Wairarapa Biodiversity

Prior to human settlement, New Zealand was characterised by indigenous biodiversity that had evolved creating many habitats, ecosystems and species. The Wairarapa was made up of many different types of habitat and ecosystems; wetlands, open spaces, tussock lands, sand dunes, forests and dry lands are all parts of the landscape to varying degrees. These habitats provide many opportunities for Wairarapa’s endemic and native species to live and breed.

The Wairarapa Plains area was characterized by variety. The whole area was covered with grass swamp, scrub and forest all combined together like patchwork. There were large patches of Kahikatea in the drier areas with patches of Matai forest, Raupo, Harakeke and Sedges or Rush Swamps in wetter areas. The rivers were abundant with eels, Kokopu, Koaro, and other endemic species with Lake Wairarapa and its environment forming the largest wetland systems in the Lower North Island. There were also abundant numbers of lizard and frog species spread around the region.

The Ruamahanga River ran right through the Wairarapa Plains, sustaining the area with its frequent floods and even changing meanderings. The frequent widespread flooding of the Ruamahanga has been restricted with the planting of willows to stabilize the banks, so the extensive wetlands which used to be a feature of the Wairarapa, have now been drained, leaving only remnant but very significant pockets of the original vegetation and wetland habitats.

The Wairarapa has a varied coastal environment too. There are sandy beaches bordered by dunes; rugged and rocky shorelines that steeply ascend to the mountainous country immediately behind; estuaries which form a pathway through the hills, across the beaches and foreshore to the sea. The coastal area also has a number of special features like Lake Onoke, White Rock, Castle Rock, Honeycomb Rock and Te Hamenga Point. These areas all have their own native ecosystems and contain regionally threatened plants and animals. There is a daisy found at Castlepoint which grows naturally nowhere else in New Zealand or the world.

The Wairarapa today is very different with farming, forestry, viticulture, cropping and urban development. Primary production is dependent on introduced biodiversity and is the mainstay of the economic prosperity of the Wairarapa. We need to acknowledge the importance of introduced biodiversity while incorporating indigenous biodiversity into the modified environment. The challenge for the Wairarapa is to find the balance between the benefits provided by introduced species and the threats some of them pose for indigenous biodiversity. At present, the balance is in favour of introduced species.


Threats to Biodiversity in the Wairarapa

The areas of indigenous biodiversity left are now much reduced in size and a number of species are under threat. We are lucky in the Wairarapa to have been a part of the Tb Vector Control Programme. The success of this program has meant that there are very few possums remaining. The benefit to the native vegetation has been phenomenal in terms of growth and the bird life it now supports. However there are other plant and animal pests that need to be controlled as they are a threat not only to agriculture but also to our indigenous biodiversity. Possums, rats, rabbits, stoats, ferrets and cats are the key animal pests. In the plant world, old man’s beard, Japanese honeysuckle, German, English and Cape Ivy, Tradescantia and Banana Passionfruit are the main culprits.

Not just confronted with invasive weeds and predatory pests our biodiversity has to cope with habitat destruction. This includes but is not limited to deforestation, soil erosion, pollution and drainage of wetlands and swamps.

While the New Zealand land mass has had a dramatic past over many millions of years, the arrival of humans less than 1,000 years ago brought major and rapid change. Habitats were cleared and new species were introduced, many of which became pests and subsequently fed voraciously on many plants and animals which had evolved without such pressures.


Legislation affecting Biodiversity in the Wairarapa

The key legislation and policy affecting biodiversity are:

• Resource Management Act 1991 and subsequent amendments;
• New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000;
• Wairarapa Combined District Plan; and the
• Convention on Biological Diversity

Under the Resource Management Act 1991 and subsequent amendments, local authorities must recognize and provide for the protection of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna. Protecting and maintaining indigenous biodiversity is an explicit function of territorial authorities and must be provided for in district plans.

Wairarapa Projects

There are many projects in the Wairarapa that volunteers can get involved in.

  • Henley Wetland
  • Makoura Stream – Greater Wellington Regional Council – See Masterton Office
  • Millennium Reserve
  • Riversdale Beach – Greater Wellington Regional Council – See Masterton Office
  • Enaki Stream
  • Fensham Wetland
  • Papawai Stream
  • Whangaehu River

Options for Protection of Indigenous Biodiversity


A covenant is a legal agreement to protect land with important nature conservation values. Covenants are normally in perpetuity thus binding future landowners but may be for specific periods. An agreed document is drawn up outlining the rights and responsibilities of each party, it is registered against the title although can also be registered just to the owner. There are three main mains of covenanting:


1. An open space covenant with the QEII Open Space Trust

A QEII National Trust Open Space covenant is a legal agreement between the National Trust and the landowner to protect a special open space feature. The land protected by a covenant does not become property of the trust, rather the landowner retains ownership and management of the land. The QEII model of protection is proven to be a robust, simple and cost-effective resource management tool.


2. A conservation covenant with the Department of Conservation (DOC).

The Department of Conservation offer the option of entering into a legal covenant with them, as the landholder, you retain ownership and the covenant is registered against the title, usually in perpetuity.


3. A Nga Whenua Rahui Kawenata, which is between the Minister of Conservation and Maori Land-owners

Nga Whenua Rahui Kawenata provides a unique opportunity to apply Maori conservation values in their own right and not purely as the cultural values component of a broader conservation strategy. Legal protection is offered through kawenata (covenants), setting aside areas of Maori reservations or through management agreements. The criteria and mechanisms of Nga Whenua Rahui, are geared towards the owners retaining tino rangatiratanga (ownership and control).

Management Agreements

Management agreements between the Department of Conservation and a landholder under section 29 of the Conservation Act are not registered against the title and do not bind future owners. These are temporary agreements that keep your management options open until you reach a final agreement for improved protection.

Protected Private Land Agreements

Protected private land agreements are organized by the Department of Conservation to protect land under the Reserves Act. Notice of the agreement is registered on the title and provides a similar level of protection as a covenant. As the landholder, you retain ownership, and the agreement is recorded on the title by gazette notice.


Who can help me protect my significant natural area?

QEII National Trust

QEII National Trust is an independent statutory organization that was set up in 1977 to encourage and promote, for the benefit of New Zealand, the provision, preservation and enhancement of open space. The Trust’s core activity is to secure long-term protection of natural and cultural features on private land, usually by the legal mechanisms of an open space covenant.

QEII Offers:

• A relationship independent of other agencies.
• Over 30years experience working in partnership with private landowners throughout the country.
• Expertise in legal protection (open space covenants) and legal documentation.
• Possible funding assistance e.g. partial fencing costs.
• Survey arrangement and costs (but not in the case of subdivision).
• Lodgment of all necessary documentation with Land Information New Zealand to formally register the covenant on the property title.
• Local QEII representatives who administer the health of covenants and provide practical management advice.
• Open Space magazine three times a year; a highly respected publication on protecting biodiversity.

Get more information on the QEII National Trust.


Department of Conservation (DOC)

The Department of Conservation can assist you to protect areas of bush or wetland on your property by assisting you to seek help from the two funds that they service. DOC staff have a wide knowledge on pest and plants and may be able to provide advice on the best ways to protect areas of land or wetland.

DOC services two government funds, Nga Whenua Rahui which specializes in Maori owned land, and the Nature Heritage Fund which specialized in other land.

The Nature Heritage Fund sets out to protect indigenous ecosystems that represent the full range of natural diversity originally present in the New Zealand landscape by providing incentives for voluntary conservation. The Nature Heritage Fund helps meet the cost of protecting areas by providing contestable finance for projects that protect ecosystems.

Nga Whenua Rahui is a contestable fund established in 1990 to negotiate the voluntary protection of native forest on Maori-owned land. Five years ago, the scope of the fund was expanded to include other indigenous ecosystems on Maori land.

Get information on Doc and how they can help you.


Greater Wellington Regional Council

Greater Wellington can help private landowners to protect and manage biodiversity on their land in a number of ways. In partnership with QEII National Trust, the council offers support for landowners entering into a covenant to protect areas of value on their land. This helps to keep the costs of establishing a covenant low for the landowner. The covenant however remains a legally binding agreement between the landowners and the National Trust. The council has an advisory service to help landowners with management advice such as ecological restoration techniques, and plant and animal pest control methods.

The regional council has a number of programs that could help with the protection of your significant natural area.

These are:

Key Native Ecosystems (KNE) – When the area concerned id of sufficiently high value the council can help through this programme. A commitment to legally protect the area concerned by way of covenant is a requirement of the KNE programme. A KNE describes a natural feature on private land that is exceptionally important in terms of its ecological value and or biodiversity. This is the highest ‘ranking’ available and means that this area is eligible for a higher level of assistance.

Streams Alive Programme – Streams alive is an assistance programme for streams in 11 catchments in the Wellington region that have a high ecological value. If you are a landowner in a Streams Alive catchment with a stream on your property, you may qualify for free native plants, planting and weed control for two years after planting.

Wetland Incentives Programme – Any landowner with a wetland on their property can qualify for assistance of up to $5,000 and free advice, including the preparation of a wetland management plan. The programme has $40,000 available each year.

Find out more information about Greater Wellington and the programmes that they offer.


Local Councils

The Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa District Councils all offer rates relief for areas protected by covenant. The remission is 100% of rates for that covenanted area. Councils can also assist with applications for funds such as the Biodiversity Condition fund. The condition fund is directed at maintenance, restoration and improvement projects designed to enhance indigenous vegetation, species and habitats located on private land.


Biodiversity Fund

The Biodiversity Condition Fund is directed at maintenance, restoration and improvement projects designed to protect and enhance indigenous vegetation, species and habitats located on private land. These projects involve for example fencing, pest control, or forest restoration. There is a maximum of $60,000 for a single project per year.

The aims of the Biodiversity Condition Fund are as follows:
• To improve and maintain the condition of areas of indigenous vegetation, species and habitats on private land.
• To broaden the base of community effort in indigenous biodiversity management.
• To complement landowner contributions and leverage contributions from other sources for biodiversity on private land.

Free phone number (0800) 86 2020

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