sign uplog in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Angus Kebbell talks with David Norton about how the already substantial biodiversity profile on farmland needs to be integrated into farm management plans, even as bureaucrats try to mess with progress with their latest fads

Angus Kebbell talks with David Norton about how the already substantial biodiversity profile on farmland needs to be integrated into farm management plans, even as bureaucrats try to mess with progress with their latest fads
The real custodians of native biodiversity

By Angus Kebbell

“You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

We have to be careful in this country not to stifle the very industry that keeps us ticking along, which are our farmers and growers. Last year I talked with Professor David Norton from the University of Canterbury and we focused on biodiversity and farm plans.

He understands the importance of nurturing both our farming businesses and equally the environment in which farmers live and work.

Have a listen to the interview as it opens the door to supporting farmers rather than cutting our most important industry off at the knees.


Norton makes the point that a quarter of all native plants are currently on sheep and beef farms, and that 17% of all native forests are on these farms. In many regions, most remaining biodiversity is not on public conservation land or national parks. Farmers have always valued these resources in a practical way, and overall, more than society generally.

Because most is in private farmland, native biodiversity needs its own specific management plan integrated within the overall farm operations plan. There are a wide range of benefits for every operating farm, including shelter, erosion control, timber, honey, shade, etc. quite apart from the values you can derive from marketing the products from an environment rich in biodiversity, values the consumer responds to.

A key action every farmer can do with their biodiversity management plan is to monitor progress with "photo points" - regular images that show improvements over time. And time is the key to making sustained improvement, because reaching a biodiversity goal requires breaking the task down into many short term activities that will add up to the desired outcome.

The largest inhibition to progress seems to be aggressive (and often counterproductive) regulation from Wellington focusing on short-term political points-scoring - like fresh water policy statements, the Draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, climate change rules, emission reduction targets, now the banning of live the export trade. Farmers need to realise they will be around long after the latest political fad has passed, and their drive to leave their farm in a better biodiverse condition will be the legacy that will actually mean something.

To get the full story listen to the podcast above.

Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


You can’t seriously tell me that biodiversity is best managed in private profit seeking hands? I’m usually biased as I grew up in and studied agriculture, but to say that biodiversity is a key “marketing” ploy instantly voids your argument. NZ agriculture wouldn’t know diversity if it hit it in the face. It’s about production efficiencies, monoculture and manipulation of the environment to make the biggest profit e.g manuka honey being the latest example.

What an appropriate moniker......

Nice rebuttal you sure showed me who’s got the big IQ huh!

Open your eyes when you drive through the countryside. I'm in coastal southern Hawkes Bay and farmers around here are right into biodiversity enhancement and there's s**t loads of regenerating bush, wake to bellbird and Tui in the mornings.
Yes they are running a business but you don't appear to appreciate that making a profit and husbanding the farm environment go hand in hand.

Good observation LouB yes many farms are conservation minded. The one thing we are lacking in the back country is a collective effort to control pests. Without this it is a struggle to establish trees. Particularly natives and other slower growing varieties.

My family owns a farm, so I am not some townie/greenie.

But farming is generally pretty detrimental to the environment. Don't forget all the pasture you see now used to be bush. It was logged and slashed and burned from coast to coast. The bits left over were just too hard to get to, too steep or simply overlooked.

Breaking in the land, or improving the land it was called.

This guy is still doing it: And he won't even get a slap on the wrist. He's worse than many, but there's no shortage of people willing to cut down trees to create farms- e.g. the large dairy platforms in Canterbury. Dredging up pure aquifer water to irrigate and wash down all the contaminants with it.

Yes, many farmers look after their land. But it's generally an afterthought. As in, after everything else has been paid for, after every dollar has been squeezed out of the land, then, maybe, some restoration work is done.

100% Davo. If there was no legislation protecting the remnants of our native forests and wetlands, they’d all be converted into cash by now.

What a load of bollocks. There hasn't been any real robust legislation protecting remnants of native forests and wetlands for decades, until very recent times. 180,258ha of privately owned land has been voluntarily given to QEII Trust ( its inception. There is a waiting list of people seeking covenants and its got nothing to do with legislation. Given that these areas were given over to QEII and not DOC/local councils - says volumes about landowners long term lack of trust of any government to protect these areas.

Yes it's super heartening that people are covenanting land. Of course there's generally a financial incentive to do so. You can get an extra title (or titles) when you covenant land over a certain size. 5Ha of bush and 5000sqm of wetland in Auckland I think. So this plays a part.

But still, again, I'm really happy that this is happening.

Just imagine if the old boys had chainsaws, recon they would have cleared Fiordland.

Oh and putting live animal exports in there at the end, like it's just another stupid bureaucratic rule... ridiculous.