Artist rendering of proposed wetland

Last Wednesday, on World Wetlands Day, the local Ravensdown plant committed to spending $630,000 over 35 years on enhancing and maintaining a wetland on land it owns adjacent to the Waitangi Regional Park.

A Ravensdown spokesperson told BayBuzz about $100,000 would be spent in the first three years on initial plantings and earthworks. The remainder would be spent over the 35 years Ravensdown will (presumably) operate under the new consents the company now has pending before the Regional Council. More on the consent application in a moment. Video on the project here.

Meantime, Forest and Bird took the occasion to remind us that only 10% or about 249,000 hectares of NZ’s original wetlands remain. 

Here in Hawke’s Bay, Forest and Bird tells BayBuzz that before human occupation the region had 113,362 hectares of wetland ecosystem. Only 2458 hectares remain, or 2% of the original wetland area.

F&B – and ten other leading climate, environment, health, and recreation organisations — are calling on the Government to:

  1. Double the extent of natural wetlands by 2050 with interim goals.
  2. Establish and implement an Aotearoa Wetland Protection and Restoration Plan for carbon sequestration and the mitigation of climate change effects with ambitious, measurable, and enforceable regional targets.
  3. Provide $100 million of additional government funding in the next four years to establish seed funding for new wetland restoration and paludiculture trials.
  4. Map current and historical mangrove, salt marsh, and sea grass extent by 2030.
  5. Require land managers to account for drained wetlands in the Emissions Trading Scheme, and protect and restore wetlands as emission reduction mechanisms in Farm Environment Plans.
  6. Stop the current destruction of wetlands by agriculture, urban development, mining, quarrying, and landfills by ensuring existing regulations are not watered down – and are properly enforced.

Of concern to Forest and Bird in Hawke’s Bay are several threats they perceive to the region’s wetlands:

“The Tranche 2 package of large quantity, deep groundwater take consents sought in CHB threaten to drain and destroy wetlands in the Waipawa and Tukituki catchments due to high connectivity between surface water and ground water. Evidence of receding groundwater levels is already felt by wetlands such as the reminant Kahikatea swamp forest in Department of Conservation’s reserve, Inglis Bush.” 

“The Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme would have destroyed a rare oxbow wetland, which provides habitat to native fernbirds, fish, and other threatened species.” This proposal is being freshly advocated.

Waitangi Estuary Wetlands is “currently under threat” by applications to discharge contaminants by Ravensdown. Clearly Ravensdown and F&B aren’t yet quite on the same page. Neither would disagree that this estuary provides a variety of wetland and coastal habitats that support a significant population of bird species. 

$630k for a wetland is not to be sneezed at, but environmentalists might be forgiven for being cynical. F&B commented to BayBuzz: “Any restored historic wetland habitat is a good thing for the climate, and the native fish and birds. However, we are puzzled as to why the restoration money is being pledged while Ravensdown’s consent application is pending council decision.”

I went to an ‘open day’ at Ravensdown held this week on the project and came away convinced that their postposed wetland, whatever its timing, will be a positive contribution to needed habitat. And as you see in the video, the relevant Maori clearly agree, having had a strong hand in refining the proposal.

The wetland sits within a bigger picture that will be reviewed during the consenting process Ravensdown needs to complete successfully to continue operations. Recognising its environmental performance bar must be significantly lifted, the company has spent nearly two years consulting informally with the community on its plans and — unlike on previous occasions — seems to have addressed environmental issues forthrightly and without controversy.

This consent is of course of major commercial and environmental importance to the region and beyond, with the Awatoto plant being the largest superphosphate production facility in New Zealand … and Napier Port’s largest importer.

The consent is about this facility meeting environmental standards from an operational standpoint. It is not about the future of synthetic fertilisers in NZ farming systems nor about importing the main ingredient from Africa under rather controversial circumstances … that’s a whole other story! 

The window for public submissions on the application closes February 18, and none have yet been filed. Ravensdown’s support materials for the application are hereBayBuzz will stick with this unfolding process.

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