Robyn Edie / Stuff
Southland environmental adviser Nicol Horrell questioned the accuracy of data in an environmental report prepared by the Department of Environment and Stats NZ. (File photo)
Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell has doubts about some information presented in a major government report on the environment.
The Department of Environment and Stats NZ released the Environment Aotearoa 2022 report last month, which says Southland lost 3,944 hectares of native land cover between 2012 and 2018, the highest net loss of any region in the country.
But at a meeting of Environment Southland’s strategy and policy committee on Wednesday, where an overview of the report was discussed, Horrell said he was “very surprised” at the extent of deforestation for grazing purposes.
“It’s an appalling number if it’s correct…it just doesn’t seem to match what we’re seeing on the pitch,” he said.
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Cr Jeremy McPhail asked if the report considered new plantings and fenced areas to create new wetlands.
“We always see what we see lost, but not the things that are done and that’s also positive,” McPhail said.
Horrell also questioned why Tuatapere received a low rating for cultural health, which assesses a site’s accessibility, ability to undertake mahinga kai [food gathering] activities and integrated cultural health.
“Before they put the sewage system in place a few years ago, there was a clear indication that there was a septic type problem. If there is still a problem there, I would definitely like to know why,” he said.
The report states that Murihiku Southland is noted as having the greatest loss of freshwater wetlands between 1996 and 2018, contributing nearly half (2,665 hectares or 46%) of the total loss. For the Southland coast, the sea surface trend between 2002 and 2018 shows an increase of 0.2 to 0.6 degrees Celsius per decade.
Advisers also criticized that the most recent data used in the report was already five years old and that progress had been made on environmental challenges during that time.
But it prompted councilor Robert Guyton to speculate that the data in the report was “challenged by a council farmer lobby group”.
“It’s just an observation, I’m not saying that they are wrong, I’m just saying that from an outside point of view, there has been an uprising of anxiety about these data that have been presented to us, who don’t have it doesn’t come from city dwellers in general.”
He did not name any particular adviser.
“Is it because, Robert, we go out, and we look around, and we observe?” Cr Allan Baird said, before being closed by committee chairman Eric Roy, who said the committee was not going to debate Guyton’s point.
Horrell said the report was unclear and he asked Lucy Hicks, policy and planning manager, to report back to the committee.
“Robert thinks we’re on the defensive, but I just want clarity…if that’s true, we need to own it, but if it’s not clear and we’re sending mixed messages, then that’s my concern.”