Environmental groups applaud Council's introduction of new climate-focused initiatives

Local government elections are coming up in just a few short weeks. The Nelson Mail explains some of the big issues the council deals with, how it has performed for the past three years, and what community groups hope for in the next triennium. Skara Bohny looks at the environment.

Environmental groups have given the Nelson City Council the "big tick" for now, but want to see its commitment continue.

Nelson became one of the first councils in New Zealand to declare climate change an emergency this year, but that is just the latest in the council's environmental work. 

The declaration and the following funding means the council's newest staff position, "climate champion", will ensure all future council plans and projects address climate change in some way. There is also funding available for non-council groups or organisations to apply for to help launch climate initiatives.

Though these are new climate-focused initiatives, the council has a long-running environmental focus including the 10-year Nelson Nature project, which works with DOC and community groups to restore and maintain Nelson's natural environment through biodiversity programmes, predator control, and habitat restoration efforts.

The council is currently going through the process of reviewing and renewing the Nelson Plan, Whakamahere Whakatū, which includes air quality and resource management plans.

The council also funds environmental groups like the Brook Sanctuary, and works with independent environmental groups like Friends of the Maitai on the Maitai/Mahitahi project.

Friends of the Maitai member Tom Kennedy said the group had a good relationship with the current council, and the main hope for the future was for the collaboration to continue.

"[We want] continuation, carrying on with the focus on climate change and the effects of forestry on river health."

The council had helped the group get set up with a bit of initial funding, and continued to support them by providing them with land, saplings, and taking on board their suggestions, Kennedy said.

"There's an area near the Brook motor-camp that's council land, and they have given us access to that land to plant about 4000 to 5000 trees, and they supplied the majority of those trees."

The council's riparian planting programme sees thousands of trees donated to groups like the Friends of the Maitai to plant council-owned land or to private land-owners wanting to restore riparian habitats or help prevent erosion.

Environmental Programmes Adviser Susan Moore-Levo said that the council had always provided trees, but the demand had increased over the past three to four years as knowledge of the programme spread.

In the last year the council was approved for Ministry of Primary Industries funding for 36,000 trees for the erosion defence planting, which brought the total number of trees given out by the council up to 45,000 for that year. MPI approved further funding to the council for 50,000 trees per year for the next four years.

"We're pretty keen to help anyone to plant more trees," Moore-Levo said.

The council has also established a forestry group with iwi and forestry organisations, at the suggestion of the Friends of the Maitai group.

The group will be focused on dealing with how plantation forestry affects river health, particularly through sedimentation.

Forest and Bird top of the south regional manager Debs Martin said the council had been "quite proactive" on the environmental front, especially with the Nelson Nature programme which she said got a "big tick from Forest and Bird".

She said the council's action on climate change was also promising, having seen the job description for the newly created role of "climate champion" at the council, but she did hope for an expansion into further environmental work.

"From what I can see it looks like they are going to take action, it's not just saying nice things," she said.

"I'm hopeful with what I've seen."

She said it was also important for the council to invest in things like infrastructure and public transport which enabled people in the community to make environmentally-friendly choices.

Martin also hoped for further collaborative work with the Tasman District Council to look after the marine environment.

"Our bays are just swimming in sediment ... engagement in the marine space is really important."

Another person hoping for continuation is Earth Hub director and founder Jose Cano, who said communication on climate change had become one of the main challenges.

"I was surprised by how much data the council has, but a lot of it is hard to find and not very accessible.

"The councils have a big job: they have the data, but how do they communicate it?"

He said he was also hoping for the council to continue with "mutual help" between itself and other community groups or organisations, to help each other make best use of their resources.

"Non profit groups, we have one thing that's our focus. The council, they have many more problems and things to do, but ... we want the same things. We want the best possible life for Nelsonians."

He said Nelson had shown it was a "small city that's done its homework" and there was an opportunity for Nelson to be a leader in climate change adaptation, but "that doesn't happen on its own", and the future council would need to think big-picture and with community focus.

"I would like to call on them and say, now is not the time for joking, or not taking it seriously, or spreading misinformation ... it's time to get all together as a community and take the long-term solutions.

"If there's one task that's necessary but also feasible ... the most important thing is to facilitate public transport. You have to get reliable public transport that's accessible to all and really convenient, it's one of the first things that the council should focus on."

 - Stuff

SKARA BOHNY

Last updated 05:00, Aug 24 2019