Report warns NZ's land use degrading the environment

The last two decades have seen an explosion in dairy farming, an increase in the intensity of our herds and the continued spread of our urban areas.

That's come at a cost to the environment, a new report from the Ministry for the Environment has found.

It's causing our soils to compact, affecting their ability to sustain agriculture, and causing run-off to impact water quality. It's also causing coastal and lowland ecosystems to "decline".

Greenpeace says the report shows there are simply too many cows.

"There are too many cows. We urgently need to diversify and transition away from intensive dairying,"says Greenpeace Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Gen Toop.  

"The industrial way are farming is literally squandering soil, which we ultimately depend on to grow food and sustain life. We have to switch to more regenerative ways of farming."

The area of land used for dairying has increased 42 percent between 2002 and 2016, the report on New Zealand's land use found.

At the same time, the amount of land used for sheep and beef farming has fallen 20 percent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand soils are degrading, and we are losing our native plants and animals.

Issues with soil compaction and phosphorus content were found at 48 percent of tested sites. High phosphorus rates can be caused by fertiliser use and can lead to water quality issues.

Poor macroporosity of the soil (a measure of how pourous the soil is) also impacts water quality, and can make production more difficult as plants struggle to thrive in compacted soil.

The report warns almost two-thirds of New Zealand's rare and 'naturally uncommon' ecosystems are under threat.

"Coastal and lowland ecosystems that were once widespread (including wetlands) continue to decline in extent," the report says.

Penny Nelson, Deputy Secretary at the Ministry for the Environment, says the report shows land use decisions are putting the environment under pressure.

"What we do on our land has effects across our environment and economy. It affects our water quality, the marine environment and the volume of greenhouse gas emissions," said Ms Nelson.

Minister for the Environment David Parker says the report's highlighted concerns around the effects of urban sprawl, the loss of wetlands and soil compaction.

"I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land.  Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils," David Parker says.

Finally, some good news

The report found 20 bird species have improved conservation status. More than half of those species were "dependent on intensive conservation management."