Significant Natural Area of Concern?
The issue of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) and their pending increased implementation made headlines earlier this year and generated protest from private landowners, farmers and iwi alike. Beekeepers, however, have been largely quiet on an issue that could, on one hand, work in their favour by helping generate more native bee forage and, on the other, has the potential to dramatically impact businesses by limiting the right to place and access their hives.
Gary Glasson’s family has been beekeeping in Blackball on the West Coast for 97 years (as detailed in Innovative Blackball Beekeepers Thrive Despite Isolation), but like many beekeepers his operation has been put under pressure by newcomers to the industry through increased competition for apiary sites. To overcome the burden on bee forage, or his right to place hives on other’s land, Glasson purchased a block of rural land for his own beekeeping use several years ago.
Now, in the light of the Government’s draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB), which outlines a desire to implement mapping of SNAs and thus limit land use, Glasson has concerns over how his business – and many like it around New Zealand – might be impacted.
“We don’t know what is going to be permitted activities in these areas,” Glasson says.
“If you want to use the land for anything, put a building up, make a track, anything like that, you will need resource consent to determine whether it will be allowable or not.”
It is up to Councils to classify SNAs, but a halt to the process was put in place following widespread displeasure and protest against the moves in June and July, most notably from various Northland iwi plus rural advocacy group Groundswell NZ. The Government is currently working on an “exposure draft” for a new NPSIB, due for release before the end of the year, which will readdress the issue of SNAs and their implementation.
“I went to one of the community SNA meetings in Greymouth and it won’t affect me, as a beekeeper, as much as it will other people, farmers and the like,” Glasson says.
“But I went to raise the issue, in terms of permitted activities, to put forward the beekeepers’ perspective. I went there to make sure we don’t get overlooked.”
A Warning from Northland
Beekeepers themselves could be at risk of overlooking the implications of SNAs though, with most beekeepers Apiarist’s Advocate canvassed recently saying SNAs are not something that has been front of mind.
However, for iwi groups, particularly in Northland, there is no hiding from the concerns of SNAs. Large portions of their land could have use limited.
Northland iwi Te Roroa, which has various land and business holdings across the region, including beekeeping, has concerns about what it could mean for their range of enterprises.
“We are in an area where one council jumped the gun and it was all over the news, which led to a whole lot of upheaval in the Maori and non-Maori communities,” says Snow Tane, general manager Te Roroa Development Group.
“It was the first time in a long time that you saw both communities coming together on an issue.”
While SNAs are more likely to impact their seven farms, Tane is concerned that beekeeping could be limited. Already, in recent years, they have had the Department of Conservation (DoC) try to limit the number of hives they could place in the extensive Waipoua Forest which falls within the iwi’s rohe (territory).
“They told me we were overstocking, while standing in the middle of the Waipoua forest, which is the biggest native forest in Northland. We were looking at putting 100 hives into a 4000-hectare area. I’m not a beekeeper, but our beekeeping partners know how to place the right amount of hives to reduce the impact,” Tane says.
Te Roroa own 300 hives, while Manuka Health also place and manage a further 300 hives on their land.
Tane says DoC was concerned that by overstocking an area with bees it was going to harm native biodiversity.
“They will say there is issues with exotic bees in ecologically significant areas and provide anecdotal evidence. If you don’t know how to handle DoC they will stick their scientist on you and come up with reasons why you shouldn’t place exotic bees in certain areas,” Tane explains.
To counter DoC’s desire to limit Te Roroa’s ability to keep bees within their rohe, Tane and others from the iwi travelled to Wellington to meet with then Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.
“I came at them with the angle of, so you are telling me bees are harmful to the environment?”
That tactic worked, with the Department not willing to make that claim, and the iwi dodged the bullet and avoided having restrictions placed on their beekeeping, Tane says.
Like many other landholders with manuka honey blocks, Te Roroa have much of the infrastructure to place hives on their land in place, but those who wish to push new tracks, build structures, or do remedial work should be concerned about the restrictions which SNAs could bring, Tane warns.
“The bigger question is around the scientific aspect. That is what we have found very grey. The SNAs legislation could give more weight to that science. An SNA is not always about something physical, but could be about endangered plant species, or animals that live in these areas.
“It is challenging and it is something that is very real. For beekeepers SNAs could have a huge impact, not just in the physical realm but the science space too,” Tane further warns.
Carrot Approach Better than Stick
Of course, some beekeepers could be among the big winners if tracts of land are protected from development and native sources of bee forage are encouraged to regenerate.
Minister for Primary Industries Damien O’Connor, while not wishing to dive deep into the issue of SNAs and apiculture, says there is misinformation and hype around SNAs and their implementation.
“Bees will be the greatest beneficiaries of protected areas and we encourage beekeeping as long as people don’t overstock and starve the bees,” O’Connor says.
“For a beekeeper to object to the protection of flora across farmland is like a trucking company objecting to roads.”
While beekeepers will surely welcome extra flora, as O’Connor suggests, it is the restrictions around how that bee forage is gained that the chief executive of the country’s largest industry body, Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ), has concern over.
Karin Kos says SNAs are well and truly on her radar, even if they are not currently a pressing issue for many of ApiNZ’s members.
“Where I live, in Eastbourne, the community has seen SNAs introduced and so, personally, I am aware of the impact they can have for private landowners,” Kos says.
“All of a sudden people are told, land has been identified as a SNA and you can’t develop it. It has a bigger implication for farmers, but it will have a downstream impact on beekeepers.”
ApiNZ has not given the government any direct feedback on the issue of SNAs, but they are taking a “watching brief” approach to developments, so they are ready to act as required.
The biggest concern is around future use of land, Kos believes, while those with existing hive sites and honey production are less likely to be affected by the introduction of SNAs. However, there are plenty of questions yet to be answered.
“We would all agree, we need biodiversity, but how do you apply that? How do you apply it so that it does not hamper future investment?” Kos asks.
At this stage ApiNZ’s view falls in line with that of Federated Farmers, the chief executive says.
Federated Farmers provided the Government with a 200-page submission on the NPSIB in March 2020. In it they stated support for the intent of the Statement, while stressing the importance of New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity, but claimed the Statement was unworkable. Instead, they have advocated for a more supportive approach to be taken with farmers who have areas of significant natural value on their property.
Their Policy and Advisory Report of August 2021 states, “Federated Farmers firm position is that real gains come through ‘hearts and minds’ and that while rules are necessary, it will be through non-regulatory approaches (such as incentives, advice, education, support, co-ordination and effort etc) that the biggest gains for biodiversity will come”.
“Fed Farmers position lines up pretty well on how we see it and how most beekeepers would see it,” Kos believes.
“We are not saying, biodiversity is not important, but are there better ways to get people interested and engaged in biodiversity?
“Biodiversity is important and has always been important through the Resource Management Act, and it helps the bees. Absolutely. It is the balance which is important though, between the need for that biodiversity and if rules and legislation put a halt to investment in honey production.”
The work of the Trees for Bees Research Trust to educate and support, along with beekeepers and landowners desire to work with the Trust, is an example of how, with the right approach, increased biodiversity on private land can be achieved, Kos says.
Keeping SNAs on the Radar
While the latest draft of the NPSIB is being worked on in Wellington, the issue of SNAs is lingering in the background and is sure to vault into the national discussion again when the next draft is released.
In the meantime, ApiNZ will be keeping in contact with fellow primary industry groups as they all monitor the progress. Some of those groups, such as Federated Farmers, may have much more to lose should restrictive land use rules be put in place, but beekeepers shouldn’t take their eye off the ball either Kos believes.
“Until it (SNAs) affects you, you may not be aware of the implications. Once you see it in the light of day you realise it might have an impact on our industry and we need to know about it,” Kos warns.
There are some beekeepers already of that opinion though.
“You might be able to put bees on the land, but if you can’t build a track, how are you going to get your bees in there?” Glasson asks of his West Coast property.
“I bought the block of land for somewhere to put bees where I won’t get turfed off, because we have all these big corporate beekeeping businesses running around with their cheque books trying to get sites.
“Now, we don’t know what is going to be permitted activities in these areas.”