Indicators of natural character of freshwater: generic approaches to management
New Zealand is a land of diverse landscapes and ecosystems; within short distances the change from sea to plains to mountains is often dramatic. Since European settlement 150 years ago, large parts of the country have been extensively modified, yet there are still landscapes present with little or no sign of human influence. Overall, these natural and cultural landscapes range from pristine and unmodified forests and waterways, to modified rural and urban areas. Lakes, rivers and wetlands are prominent features of both our natural and culturally perceived landscapes, and play an important, often integral, role in ecosystems. Preservation of the natural character of these aquatic ecosystems, and protecting them from inappropriate development, is recognised and expressed in section 6 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). However, natural character is an elusive concept to identify, much less define and assess. This presents difficulties for policymakers and councils who are working on a daily basis with the RMA. Faced with an application for a resource consent, a council has to consider the proposed activity against a number of criteria, not least asking how will it affect the natural character of aquatic systems. This begs some fundamental questions: namely, what is natural character? How is it defined and assessed? What values lie in our perceptions of naturalness? How have natural character issues been addressed by the Planning Tribunal/ Environment Court? And, what approach can councils use to assess natural character of waterways? This paper (1) explores different interpretations surrounding the meaning of natural character; (2) identifies and develops generic approaches towards managing natural character of freshwater ecosystems; and (3) defines a set of indicators for natural character of freshwater ecosystems that local authorities can easily use.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordsfreshwater ecology; environmental indicators; natural character; Resource Management Act 1991; local authorities; local government; natural areas; landscape assessment; ecological assessment
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