Landscapes Project: Context


New Zealand’s distinctive natural landscapes are an integral component of our individual and national well-being. For Māori, they provide a deep cultural connection with the past and future through whakapapa. Landscapes provide physical and spiritual respite, historical links and havens for biodiversity. They are a source of creative endeavour, a key component of the New Zealand brand, and a major drawcard for burgeoning tourist numbers.

Despite their importance, many of the country’s special natural landscapes, especially those on private land, continue to be degraded.

A case in point is the Mackenzie Basin where outstanding natural landscapes containing threatened dryland ecosystems have been negatively impacted by irrigation and conversion to intensive land uses including dairying. This is despite the protection of outstanding natural landscapes and significant ecological values being recognised as matters of national importance in the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) for more than 25 years.

Tourism impacts on landscape values are rapidly increasing. International visitor arrivals increased by 7% over the past year to total 3.8 million visits. Those visitors spent a total of $14.5 billion in the country. Total tourism revenues are now at $36 billion. Around 53% of international visitors access national parks. Visitor numbers are predicted to increase to 4.9 million by 2023.[1] There have historically been poor linkages between the tourism industry, tourism pressure and investment in the protection of important landscapes.

New Zealand has largely adopted a binary approach to landscape protection, with landscapes either fully protected in the Crown-owned conservation estate, or open to private sector development mediated by the RMA. Outcomes from those processes have been uneven.

Other countries with a longer history of human occupation and development pressure on natural landscapes have adopted a ‘third way’ where high value landscapes, that include privately-owned land, are given an extra layer or at least a special focus of statutory protection. This is through such models as national parks and ‘areas of outstanding natural beauty’ in the United Kingdom, and national seashores in the USA. Those approaches give effect to the internationally well-recognised IUCN Category V Protected Landscapes and Seascapes which seek to maintain the values of protected, lived-in, working landscapes through a combination of regulation and incentives.

EDS undertook dedicated work on landscape protection during the early 2000s, including hosting the New Zealand Landscape Conference in July 2003 and publishing A Place to Stand: The protection of New Zealand’s natural and cultural landscapes in 2004. The latter reported the results of a research project investigating landscape protection internationally and in five New Zealand case study areas.

There are some examples of a third way that have evolved recently in New Zealand. One is the creation of the Waitakere Ranges Heritage Area in the Auckland region. That concept is legislatively mandated and has proven successful in protecting the special values of the Ranges from urban encroachment, notwithstanding the pressures.

Despite the importance of landscape protection being recognised by statute for over 25 years, its meaning and significance is still poorly understood by many in business, government and affected local communities. The poor landscape outcomes in the Mackenzie basin and elsewhere also indicate that there is still significant institutional and regulatory failure in protecting important natural landscapes in the public interest. This project is designed to address these two important matters.

[1] MBIE, Key Tourism Statistics, 3 April 2018; DOC, National recreation and tourism trends, 2016-2017.

Last updated at 10:59AM on April 12, 2019