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SNA System Requirements

This document aims to assist Councils to develop their own internal SNA System requirements document. Please use this document as a starting point, and then contribute back any changes that may be of use to others.

Please also participate in the discussions about SNA Systems in general, and collaboration to Develop an SNA System for all NZ Councils. You can also listen to a recording of the Dataversity SNA Systems Audio-Conference from November 2009, and review a list of SNA system stories and tools that are available.

Councils increasingly find they need to manage Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) through biodata systems. Managing SNA data in databases can enable councils to easily retrieve information about their SNAs, including species distribution, correllation with eco-districts, size of areas, and land ownership information. The use of SNA databases can provide the means to integrate data with other data tools, such as GIS, which are capable of powerful data analysis. These increased data retrieval and analysis capabilities are important assets in a biodata management strategy.

An overview of council efforts to address indigenous biodiversity on private land has been prepared by the Ministry for the Environment.

Statutory Requirements

Section 6(c) of the Resource Management Act 1991 requires, "the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna" to be recognised and provided for as a matter of national importance.

The RMA does not, however, define 'significant' and the task of determining what indigenous species and habitats are significant is by default devolved to local government.

There are a range of models currently used by councils to determine the significance of a natural area. One of these assessment models is that developed by Norton and Roper-Lindsay ( New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(2): 295-305). There has been robust debate in ecological circles about the efficacy and impartiality of various assessment methods, including a critique of Norton and Roper-Lindsay's model and their response to that critique.

Criteria

A general set of criteria for assessing significance by councils is:

  • Inherent Ecological Values of the Area
  • Representativeness
  • Rarity
  • Diversity and Pattern
  • Distinctiveness/Special Ecological Characteristic
  • Ecological Context
    • Size and Shape
    • Connectivity

Some councils rate sites against these criteria on some kind of scale, but it can be difficult to do this in a quantative manner, therefore another approach is to simply state whether or not the site meets each criterion.

There is often some consideration of the future of the site's potential ecological value and its prospects for long-term sustainability, however using this criterion to exclude a site from SNA designation is a subject of hot debate. 

The criteria used by Tasman District Council have undergone a rigorous process over the past two years as a technical strand of the Native Habitats Tasman project. These are to be published shortly. Criteria applied by Tasman in the 1990s exemplify many of the problems outlined above, but can be viewed in their Resource Management Plan .

There is much work being done by councils to develop and refine criteria for selecting SNA's. 

Classification

Areas being assessed for SNA inclusion are sometimes classified according to the LENZ and LCDB groupings, or the groupings are used as a tool to assist with identifying possible SNA sites at a high level, before surveying begins. For example, being able to quickly find any sites of swamp forest that are also on alluvial soil. 

Each region generally uses the Ecological District Framework to create a list of ecological districts in their territory. These districts are then used to help categorise and describe SNA sites at a finer level.

User Stories

The following user stories have been written from the perspective of fictional actors from a fictional unitary council called Hinterland Unitary Council (HUC).

SNA Report Management

Susie, a Senior Biodiversity Manager at HUC, has an archive of many SNA reports that has become increasingly difficult to manage. The reports are filed electronically as Word documents and sometimes have additional information in Excel spreadsheets. There are also hard copies in a filing system that include ecologists' hand-drawn maps. She finds it cumbersome to extract the information she needs, particularly as other council business units are requesting increasingly complicated analysis to be garnered from the reports. It is particularly difficult to extract information that compares SNA's across the region or provides other region-wide figures. She would also like to have all information within SNA reports to be available electronically.
She has therefore decided that she would like to look into either acquiring or developing a SNA system to manage this data. She has received permission from her manager to explore this issue. Susie has undertaken a requirements gathering exercise and come up with the following list of features that her system would ideally incorporate:

  • Site ID
  • Site Name
  • Site Number
  • Landowner Val. No. (links to rates info)
  • Property Name
  • Occupier (if different From landowner)
  • Planning Map Grid Reference
  • Searchable keywords about site
  • Ecosystem Definition
  • Classification of area (LCDB)
  • Classification of area (LENZ)
  • Vegetation Condition
  • Species found on site(s)
  • General Description
  • Ranking of Site Importance
  • Land title information
  • Land ownership information
  • Assessment Date
  • Surveyed By
  • Link to original survey of site
  • Link to subsequent monitoring reports on site

The system should also allow her to perform the following tasks:

  • To store SNA reports electronically, including text, digital images, GIS coordinates.
  • To search all SNA reports and extract data based on criteria such as ecodistrict, species present, and size.

GIS

Brian a GIS Analyst with HUC has been asked by Kate, Senior Biodiversity Manager, to produce data about where the Significant Natural Areas in the region are located and their size in hectares. He is to provide the information in both spreadsheet and map formats. He is also to provide data on the distribution of endangered and pest species across these SNA's.

SNA Assessment

Kate, a Senior Biodiversity Manager at HUC, wants to conduct a survey of possible new SNA sites. She needs to identify which sites would be best to have surveyed then contact the landowners to try and gain their buy-in (the 'landowner' may be DOC or another public entity).

If they agree to have their site surveyed then an external ecologist will need to be engaged to survey the site. There will need to be communication between the landowner, the ecologist and the council about when the survey is to be undertaken and how much involvement the landowner would like to have. The landowner may also specify whether they wish the subsequent report to be publicly available or not (in either case the report may possibly be obtained via the Official Information Act).

The ecologist will undertake a site visit (perhaps meeting with the landowner if they wish to be present during the visit) and then write a report including maps. The report will need to assess the site against the council's criteria for SNA's and determine whether the site qualifies. The ecologist will then report back to the council (and the landowner?).

The council receives the report and records the observations and outcomes. The council then communicates this information to the landowner. If the site has been deemed to qualify as a SNA, the council will offer management assistance of the area to the landowner. The landowner may or may not wish to engage in this management. If management is undertaken in conjunction with the council, the council will wish to record this management process. The site will ideally be monitored over time. These monitoring reports will need to be recorded at the council, preferably alongside the original reports.

SoE Reporting

Kate must prepare a SoE for MfE. As part of her measurement of the 'health' of the region's environment, she wishes to summarise changes in biodiversity in SNA's. She and her team survey all SNA's and grade each of them on a 'scorecard'. These findings are collated and recorded in a spreadsheet to be included in the SoE documentation.

Consent Application

HUC planning staff receive consent applications. They want to be able to check whether consent sites are adjacent to or overlap SNA sites. If the consent site is proximate to a SNA, they need to find out if the activity applied for in the application will affect the SNA. To do this they consult with members of the Biodiversity Management team.

SNA Data Recording

HUC biodiversity staff wish to record information (including files) about SNA's in a searchable database. Information that they wish to record includes:

  • Site Name
  • Site Number
  • Planning Map Grid Reference
  • Link to original survey of site
  • Searchable keywords about site
  • Classification of area (LENZ, LCDB)
  • Vegetation Types
  • Vegetation Condition
  • Species found on site(s)
  • General Description
  • Ranking of Site Importance
  • Land title information
  • Land ownership information
  • Link to subsequent monitoring reports on site