Red tape and regulations ‘bogging down’ wetland conservation gains - Fish & Game

  • 10/09/2023

Current regulations are not working to maintain existing wetland areas and are hindering the creation of new wetlands, says Fish & Game New Zealand.

Fish & Game, the country’s leading advocate for wetlands, believes the current National Environmental Standards for Freshwater regulations (NES-FW) make the enhancement and restoration of wetlands more difficult while failing to protect existing wetlands.

The organisation, which has helped drive approximately $22 million investment in restoring wetlands, mainly on private rural land in partnership between hunters and landowners, wants a review of the NES-FW wetland rules.

“We have been providing significant free consultancy services to help communities and farmers secure consents; however, many landowners are walking away from projects to create or restore wetlands on their properties because of the amount of additional red tape and costs the regulations have introduced,” says Corina Jordan, chief executive of Fish & Game NZ.

“This is an absurd outcome when wetlands not only provide habitat for indigenous and valued introduced species but are also a key tool in farmers’ toolkit to address losses of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus from the farm, as well as supporting climate change adaption and mitigation.

“For instance, one owner with nine wetlands has told us about the challenging process required to gain consents to carry out routine maintenance of the canals and more than 125 ponds on their properties. These enhancement activities had previously been pretty straightforward to work through.

”Another farmer received a $25,000 estimate from a regional council for a resource consent and environmental assessment to increase the size of a wetland on their property. That’s simply cost-prohibitive and is inhibiting potential conservation gains on private land.

“We’ve had people say it’s easier to get consent for intensive winter grazing than it is to build a wetland.”

The NES-FW wetland requirements are hard for regional councils to implement, in particular those with a strong focus on building, restoring, and enhancing wetlands, says Jordan.

Regional councils are interpreting the NES-FW differently, so while overall, there is a move to more consents and red tape, there are wide differences in the conditions being imposed on landowners.

Now, discretionary resource consents are needed for wetland creation when previously this was permitted (no consent required). Quarrying activities have gone from often being non-complying to discretionary (less restrictive) in wetlands. Therefore, it has become harder to create wetlands and easier to destroy them.


“We need to introduce Permitted Activity criteria so that regional councils and organisations such as Fish & Game can work with farmers and communities to restore and enhance wetlands and gain funding for projects.

“Signage, boardwalks and small structures such as mai mai under the size of 10m2 should also be permitted activities.”

Fish & Game is at the forefront of protecting wetlands on both public and private land, including wildlife management reserves for game birds and hunting. Fish & Game has also developed educational resources highlighting the importance of saving endangered wetland areas. Most of the organisation’s work is funded through its sale of fishing and hunting licences.

“There are huge opportunities, particularly on private land, to create, enhance or develop more wetlands,” says Jordan.

“These habitats benefit not only game birds but all creatures and avian species dependant on that habitat to survive, such as the endangered Australasian bittern.

“Farmers may recognise the potential for turning a swampy paddock into a wetland but not know how to go about the process. Fish & Game provides that expertise, connections and support free of charge.

“There has been some tweaking of the regulations, but major impediments remain. There is shared frustration between Fish & Game and many farmers around the all-encompassing NES Regulation 55 regarding general conditions on natural inland wetland activities, coupled with challenges even interpreting the definition of these habitats.

“Wetlands are vital in maintaining healthy ecosystems. We need regulation that supports and encourages the creation and maintenance of wetlands and makes it easier to work with farmers and communities to put wetlands back – not confusing regulations and costly barriers.”

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