Significant natural areas - FAQ

Frequently asked questions about significant natural areas.

What are significant natural areas?

Significant natural areas (SNAs) are areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna. They are large areas generally over 0.5 hectares (1.2 acres) in size.

Te Awarua-o-Porirua Harbour and catchment are both hugely significant to our people. Porirua City is known for its coastal environment, iconic landscapes, and areas of significant biodiversity value.

Porirua City was once extensively covered in kohekohe-tawa forest. Extensive clearance of this vegetation in the mid and late 1800s for timber and farming, and more recently for expansion of urban settlements, has left the city with only scattered remnants of this former cover. This loss of vegetation has contributed to water quality issues in the harbour. This pattern of biodiversity loss is an issue across the whole region and the country.

Much of Porirua’s natural vegetation remnants are on public land and are protected as parks or reserves. Some of the significant remnants are on private land which currently have no protection.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) lists the protection of “areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna” as a matter of national importance. These areas are commonly known as “significant natural areas” (SNAs) in District Plans.

Throughout New Zealand, management of natural areas happens at both the regional and district council level (outside conservation land managed by the Department of Conservation). Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for setting the overall policy for the region. They have a specific role in maintaining and enhancing ecosystems in fresh and coastal water. They also undertake pest management across the region.

Porirua City Council is responsible for land-based natural areas. The Regional Policy Statement 2013 requires us to identify significant areas of native biodiversity, and protect them through policies and rules in our district plan.

Councils are required to identify specific trees or groups of trees that require protection rather than relying on blanket tree protection rules for the whole city. For example, councils can no longer have rules such as ‘protect all native trees over five metres in height’.

Other district councils in the Wellington Region will also have to address these requirements in their district plans. 

We have undertaken an ecological assessment of the entire city. This was carried out by Wildlands Ecological Consultants, who have extensive experience doing similar ecological assessments.

Under this assessment ecosystems are considered significant if they meet criteria set out in Policy 23 of the Regional Policy Statement.

Wildlands re-evaluated sites identified in previous assessments (including Boffa Miskell 2001, Blaschke 2011 and 2015). Wildlands also used research and datasets from sources including the Department of Conservation and Greater Wellington Regional Council. Recent aerial photography was also used.

Site visits by an ecologist were arranged where requested by landowners.

For more information on methodology please see this report: Wildlands (2018) Methodology for the Assessment of Ecological Site Significance in Porirua City

There has been a history of engagement relating to significant natural areas (previously known as ecological sites or significant urban vegetation) which dates back to 2001. In 2012, engagement on the first draft ecological sites policy was undertaken with letters sent to homeowners and many site visits undertaken during this time. 

There was a significant amount of feedback from landowners, particularly around the restrictions on what maintenance could be undertaken on properties. For example, under rules in the 2012 policy, residents would not have been allowed to do simple pruning without resource consent.  There were also questions about the ecological value and/or mapping of some sites.

Another change since 2012 was the Regional Policy Statement becoming operative with amended criteria around what makes a site significant. Following reassessment on 2013 criteria, the number of identified sites has been reduced from the original 274 sites to 222. Areas of lesser ecological value have been removed based on this change in criteria.  To protect smaller stands of trees that still provide ecological value, we are asking the public to nominate notable trees.

We are now taking a simple district-wide, integrated approach. These changes will make this policy easier for land users to understand and comply with, as well as knowing there is support and advice available.

If your property has been identified as containing or being part of a significant natural area, this may place some constraints on what you can and cannot do with vegetation on your property. Please see the Proposed Distict Plan for more information.

Section 86B of the Resource Management Act states that a rule in a proposed plan has immediate legal effect from public notification if it protects or relates to significant indigenous vegetation, significant habitats of indigenous fauna or historic heritage.

This means that the rules in the Ecosystems and Indigenous Biodiversity, Historic Heritage, and Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori chapters, as well as some rules in the Infrastructure, Renewable Electricity Generation, Signs and Subdivision chapters that relate to activities regarding the protection or development of Significant Natural Areas, Historic Heritage and Sites and Areas of Significance to Māori have legal effect from public notification of the District Plan.

To help you, we have a resource consent duty planner available between 1pm to 4.30pm every day from Monday to Friday. We want to save you time and worry and our planners will be able to answer general questions about the District Plan or whether resource consent is needed. Simply phone us on (04) 237 5089, or come to our Customer Services Centre at 16 Cobham Court, Porirua. 

There are numerous organisations and funds that landowners can access to look after biodiversity on their property including:

Porirua City Council's Sievers Grove Nursery

The Council has a nursery where you can buy a wide variety of plants at wholesale prices. The plants are grown on site from locally sourced seed and cuttings. They can provide expert advice on what to plant on your property and how to care for it.

Our nursery is at 106 Sievers Grove in Porirua East and open from 8am to 3pm Monday to Friday. Visit our webpage or call (04) 237 6893 for more information.

Greater Wellington Regional Council

The Regional Council has a range of programmes to support landowners in managing the biodiversity on their land, including funding, guidance and land management advice. Visit their website to find out more.

They also have the following guides for free download including:

Predator free groups in Porirua

Porirua City Council provides financial support to neighbourhood pest-free groups. Find out how to get involved.

Department of Conservation

DoC has a range of programmes available as a part of the Government’s “Predator Free 2050” target, an ambitious goal to rid New Zealand of damaging introduced predators. Visit their website for advice and more information on funding.

Queen Elizabeth II National Trust

The QEII Trust helps private landowners in New Zealand protect habitats of threatened animal and plant species on private properties. They can provide advice on accessing legal protection, funding and practical management advice. Visit their website for more information.

If you have further questions please contact us on 04 237 5089 or [email protected]