20.1 Introduction

20.1.1 Wetlands include a wide variety of fresh-water and salt water habitat types and the resident flora and fauna that are associated with them. They can be permanently or temporarily covered by water and are considered to be amongst some of the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems.

20.1.2 For Waikato-Tainui, the lower Waikato wetlands are areas of huge significance. Due to the concealing nature of wetlands, people would store and preserve taonga within them, thus ensuring the safety of those taonga. Key wetlands continue to conceal the koiwi of Waikato-Tainui tuupuna who lost their lives during the battles of Rangiriri and Meremere in 1863.

20.1.3 Wetlands are an integral component within the whakapapa of Waikato-Tainui rivers and lakes. They provide important spawning grounds and habitat for fish and other taonga species. They also provide important ecosystem services such as reducing peak flood flows, increasing low flows, and trapping and removing sediments and nutrients.

20.1.4 The main wetland types found in the Waikato Region include kahikatea swamp, maanuka wetlands, sedgelands, raupoo and harakeke (Phormium tenax) swamps; although restiad peat bog complexes (Sporadanthus and Empodisma) were once also common in the lower catchment. Prior to 1840, wetlands once covered approximately 52,357 ha of the total area recognised today as the Waikato District. Less than 22% (approximately 11,083 ha) of that area remains, with the greatest local reduction occurring in the Hamilton Ecological District (Clarkson and Wallace, 20048). At the regional scale, approximately 20% of the original freshwater wetlands remain.

20.1.5 The Waikato Region is home to three of six significant wetlands recognised as RA MSAR9 sites within New Zealand. These sites include the Kopuatai peat dome, Whangamarino freshwater wetland, and Firth of Thames Tidal. Because of the important connections between wetlands, rivers, lakes, and taonga species, it is important to Waikato-Tainui to protect and enhance what exists today, and where possible, to restore wetlands that were lost.

8 Clarkson, B., & Wallace, I. (2004). Wetlands of the Waikato District – Landcare Research Contract Report: LC0304/099, prepared for Waikato District Council
9The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) — called the “Ramsar Convention” — is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories. (www.ramsar.org)

20.2 Issues

Wetland mauri and condition, hauanga kai, habitat

20.2.1 The mauri of Waikato-Tainui wetlands is linked to the overall ecological health and well-being of their whakapapa (i.e. to the native fauna and flora found in those systems). These are the resources that Waikato-Tainui rely on for a number of cultural activities and which are collectively identified as ‘hauanga kai’. Negative impacts on the whakapapa of the wetlands will, therefore, have corresponding negative effects on wetland mauri and the ability of Waikato-Tainui to utilise hauanga kai.

20.2.2 Many of the remaining wetlands in the Waikato and their whakapapa are under constant threat due to:

(a) Adjacent land-use practices including drainage and fertiliser application;

(b) Removal of indigenous wetland margin/riparian vegetation;

(c) Disconnection of wetlands from their source river systems;

(d) Unnaturally high sediment and nutrient loads; and

(e) The impacts of introduced pest plant and animal species.

20.2.3 The continued decline in healthy wetland state and function has resulted in losses of important hauanga kai and habitat for natural materials used for cultural purposes and practices (flora and fauna). In turn, this has diminished the ability of Waikato-Tainui to maintain conservation practices of whakatupua (growing time) and raahui.

20.2.4 Flood plains and wetlands provide important habitat and spawning for indigenous fish but many of the region’s wetlands are no longer in a suitable state to perform this function. This is coupled by a reduction in the connectivity between freshwater systems and habitat due to infrastructure such as culverts, weirs and/or dams (see Chapter 18, He ika – fisheries).

20.2.5 Pest fish (e.g. gambusia, koi and catfish), and animal species (e.g. mustelids, feral cats, and rodents) now occupy and dominate many of the region’s wetlands, excluding many species of native fauna and negatively altering plant communities.

20.2.6 Currently, the most commonly used methods for controlling pest species in wetlands are based on toxic compounds with potential side effects for the wider environment, and the health of communities. Waikato-Tainui recognises that on a case-by-case basis, toxic tools may be the only methods available. However, the true success of such programmes is measured by the effectiveness of consultation and engagement processes with Waikato-Tainui and the approaches taken to explore other options for pest control. The long-term aspiration for Waikato-Tainui with regard to pest control in wetlands is for non-toxic tools.

20.2.7 Waikato-Tainui believes that land use planning and policy development has not recognised and protected the natural capacity of wetlands to process and extract water-borne contaminants. This is particularly relevant to those wetlands that are fed by streams and/or lie alongside rivers.

20.2.8 The Waikato Regional Council Significant Natural Areas (SNA) programme helps to identify terrestrial and wetland habitats across the region. A complementary process could be developed to apply the ‘culturally significant’ wetlands to the SNA baseline and to apply Waikato-Tainui local knowledge to fill gaps (such as for smaller wetlands that are difficult to detect at the regional scale).

Access

20.2.9 As a result of the reduction in wetland area and the impacts on remnants, the ability for Waikato-Tainui to exercise kaitiaki responsibilities, maintain access to, and utilise the natural resources of wetlands has been compromised. Many wetlands in the region are surrounded by privately owned land with no legal access for Waikato-Tainui or the public.

20.3 Objectives, Policies & Methods

Objective – Wetland mauri and condition, hauanga kai, habitat

20.3.1 Existing wetlands are protected and enhanced

Policy – improvement to the condition of existing wetlands

20.3.1.1 To encourage improvements to local hydrology (where possible) to support healthy wetland function, and restoration of locally appropriate wetland biodiversity within local planning and land management practice.

Methods

(a) Activities and resource use in, on, and around wetlands support and promote the enhancement of current and/or new wetland habitats.

(b) Water takes from wetlands are restricted to promote healthy wetland function.

(c) Planning rules and policies prevent any further reduction in wetland area or wetland condition within the Waikato-Tainui rohe.

(d) Facilitate and/or support the establishment of programmes to restore and expand wetland habitat. These programmes should be developed and implemented to achieve a measurable increase in the quality of wetlands, and should ideally include, but not be limited to:

(i) Restoring existing wetlands;

(ii) Removing and/or controlling plant and animal pests;

(iii) Using technology such as constructed wetlands where this is feasible;

(iv) Expanding the size of those wetlands where this is feasible;

(v) Re-establishing wetlands adjacent to lakes and rivers where land is available and conditions remain suitable for wetlands; and

(vi) Identifying and setting aside government and local authority owned land for the purpose of wetland creation and enhancement.

(e) Water levels of all significant wetlands shall be maintained and stabilised to prevent further deterioration in wetland ecological condition and, where possible, wetland water levels shall be restored to enhance habitat and expand wetland area. Where necessary, this shall be achieved by placing restrictions on the amount of surface and subsurface drainage installed on farmland adjacent to wetlands.

(f) Encourage education providers, local authorities, Crown agencies, and non-Government organisations and promote public education programmes to:

(i) Promote the importance of wetlands; and

(ii) Explain and promote Waikato-Tainui values and uses of wetlands.

(g) Where practical and possible, Waikato-Tainui will co-facilitate public education programmes in the above method.

Policy – land use planning and management adjacent to wetlands

20.3.1.2 To ensure that all land use practices that have the potential to impact on wetlands have efficient sediment, drainage, discharge, fertiliser application, and riparian buffer control practices in place to ensure that adverse impacts on wetlands are prevented.
Methods
(a) There shall be no discharges of point or non-point source wastewater to ecologically or culturally significant wetlands.

(b) All stormwater discharged to ecologically or culturally significant wetlands shall be treated in such a way that ensures the ecological condition and cultural use of the wetland is not compromised.

(c) Buffer zones of appropriate indigenous plant species shall be established and/or maintained around all significant wetlands to protect them from the effects of land use and to help reduce fluctuations in wetland water levels.

(d) Landowners adjacent to regionally or culturally significant wetlands shall be required to adopt best practice land management to prevent further declines of wetland water levels and to minimise the movement of contaminants into the wetlands.

(e) Where appropriate land is available and it is feasible, flood plains shall be restored to function as natural overflow areas along the Waikato River and to link more naturally with adjacent wetlands.

(f) Waikato Regional Council, (and where appropriate other regional councils)and Waikato-Tainui work together to apply wetlands of significance to Waikato-Tainui to the Significant Natural Areas baseline to fill gaps (such as the smaller wetlands that are difficult to detect on the regional scale).
Policy – pest animals and plants
20.3.1.3 Refer to Objective – biosecurity risks and Objective – control agents for relevant objectives and policies for effectively managing pest animals and plants.
Objective – access
20.3.2 The relationship of Waikato-Tainui with its wetlands is enhanced through the restoration of wetlands and enhanced/permitted access for cultural purposes.
Policy – access
20.3.2.1 To ensure that the relationship of Waikato-Tainui with its wetlands is enhanced through the restoration of wetlands and enhanced/permitted access for cultural purposes.
Methods

(a) All ecologically and culturally significant wetlands within the Waikato-Tainui rohe, including those wetlands that are ecologically and culturally significant to Waikato-Tainui, shall be:

i. Identified and permanently fenced to exclude livestock;

ii. Monitored annually for their health and condition using a combination of traditional science and maatauranga Maaori.

(b) Resource users, activity operators, landowners, local authorities, and Crown agencies (as appropriate) to improve and facilitate access for Waikato-Tainui members to selected wetlands within the tribal area in order to practice whakatupua (growing time), raahui on wetlands during the fish spawning season, and/or other Waikato-Tainui hauanga kai and cultural practices.

(c) Resource users, activity operators, landowners, local authorities, Crown agencies, and research institutes, as the context demands, to:

i. Identify ecologically and culturally significant wetlands within the Waikato-Tainui rohe that their proposed activity impacts;

ii. In conjunction with Waikato-Tainui, identify which of those wetlands and parts of wetlands are high priority for protection and for restoration to enhance biodiversity, improve water quality, maintain low flows, and reduce peak flows;

iii. In conjunction with Waikato-Tainui, identify wetlands where it may be feasible to increase the water level, especially for the enhancement of fisheries habitat; and

iv. Work with Waikato-Tainui, as appropriate, to develop tools for monitoring wetland health using maatauranga Maaori.