Significant Natural Areas (SNAs)

Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) are areas containing significant indigenous vegetation or significant habitat of indigenous fauna that must be protected to to ensure the ongoing biodiversity in the District.These areas are a special part of our District and New Zealand’s ecological landscape.

The District Plan Review

The Waimakariri District Council is currently reviewing the District Plan in accordance with the Resource Management Act (RMA). The Operative District Plan (the plan currently in effect) contains a number of SNAs, referred to as ‘Vegetation and Habitat Sites’, which the Council is required to protect.

Council staff and qualified ecologists have been reviewing existing SNAs and identifying new SNAs for inclusion in the Proposed District Plan (the new District Plan that will be notified later this year). They've used both field visits and desktop assessments to identify and update SNA's across Waimakariri.  You can find out more about assessment process in the drop down boxes below.

As a result:

  • Most existing SNA's are proposed to be relisted in the proposed District Plan
  • A small number of existing SNA's are deemed to be no longer ecologically significant and will not be listed in the proposed District Plan
  • New SNA's have been identified and we are proposing to list them in the proposed District Plan

The Proposed District Plan has now been notified, and we encourage property owners with SNAs to make a submission.  You can find out more about the District Plan Review here.

Working with Landowners

We appreciate that many SNAs exist and continue to survive, thanks to the efforts of generations of landowners, who have valued and looked after them. We want to work collaboratively with landowners to make sure the important ecological values of these areas are maintained.

We'll be phoning all landowners of existing and potential new SNAs and offering them a visit in person to discuss their SNAs. We can explain the reasons for why the site is proposed to be listed, the implications of the proposed listing, the ecological report (if available), map, ecosystem summary and the process for resolving any concerns.

Landowners that are concerned with the mapping of the sites or accuracy of the reports can easily arrange a time with us to discuss their concerns further. We will work with landowners to resolve these concerns prior to the notification of the Proposed District Plan where possible.

Once an SNA is listed in the Proposed District Plan, landowners will still have the opportunity to make a submission when the Plan is notified later this year.

The Council will be contacting landowners of proposed SNAs in stages, beginning in February with those who already have a SNA listed in the Operative District Plan and those that had new proposed SNA’s that was reviewed by a field visit.  Landowners with other new SNA’s will be contacted later in the year in order to provide more time to work through the information.

Talk to the Team

Still have questions or concerns? Our Ecologist and Planning Team are available to chat about SNAs on your property. Arrange a suitable time with us by email or phone Audrey Benbrook on 0800 965 468.

Why are SNAs important?

SNAs are typically remnants of vegetation that were formally widespread and have high biodiversity value. They are critically important for preventing the extinction of rare species and ecosystems, allowing insects and birds to move across productive landscapes and as a source of the seeds, invertebrates and micro-organisms we need to effectively restore our native ecosystems.

Protecting SNA’s is important in ensuring the ongoing viability of biodiversity in the District, the wider region or at a national level. Due to this there are a number of legislative requirements for Council regarding SNAs.

Council is required to recognise and provide for the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna under Section 6(c) of the Resource Management Act (RMA). Council is also required to maintain indigenous biodiversity under Section 31 of the RMA by managing activities that may cause damage.

The Council must also give effect to the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement 2013 (CRPS) which requires objectives, policies and rules to be included in the Proposed District Plan that identify and protect significant natural areas.

The CRPS also outlines criteria for determining what constitutes a significant natural area. For a site to be considered significant, it must meet at least one of the criterion outlined in the CRPS. To view this criteria, please view Appendix 3 of the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement.

We also note that the upcoming National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, is likely to place further requirements on Councils around identifying and listing SNAs.

How were Significant Natural Areas identified?

Council staff reviewed existing SNAs through aerial imagery and other available information to determine whether the sites were still intact and should be relisted in the Proposed District Plan or needed further assessment.

We commissioned Wildland Consultants Ltd to review the sites that required further assessment and to identify new SNAs worthy of listing in the Proposed District Plan based on the significance criteria outlined in Environment Canterbury’s Regional Policy Statement.

Due to budget and time constraints, the ecologists prioritised certain sites for field visits (a small number of landowners declined the request for a field visit), with the rest assessed via desktop (using information such as reports, mapping systems and ecological databases).

New SNAs were also identified as part of Proposed Council Plan Change 25 in 2010-2012, however due to earthquake recovery projects taking priority, this plan change was not progressed at the time. We are proposing that these sites are now included in the Proposed District Plan.

Field Visits

Field surveys were undertaken where it was considered necessary, and where landowner permission was provided. These were undertaken by qualified ecologists and sought to identify rare or threatened flora and report any incidental findings of indigenous fauna that may have been present on site.

For smaller sites, the entire significant natural area was traversed on foot using existing tracks or off trail. For larger sites, or sites where access was difficult, the boundaries of the significant natural areas were followed and existing tracks or natural openings were used to survey the core of the area where this was possible.

Desktop Assessments

Not all sites had a field visit due to a range of reasons including budget constraints, access being declined by the landowner, or already having sufficient existing information. In these situations, desktop assessments were undertaken instead.

Desktop assessments were informed by relevant information from previous field visits and survey reports held by the Council, recent and historical aerial imagery, topographic maps, remote sensing datasets, ecological databases, professional ecological knowledge, and publicly available information held by other organisations such as Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury and the Canterbury Botanical Society.

What does having an SNA on my property mean?

In order to protect their important values, the Proposed District Plan will contain rules about how you can use the part of your land containing the SNA.

This will be through limits on indigenous vegetation clearance, with some specific allowances for activities such as maintenance of fences or other structures, or conservation activities. Planting of exotic vegetation, plantation forestry, woodlots, or shelterbelts within SNAs will not be permitted. Planting of indigenous vegetation will be limited to vegetation ecologically appropriate for that SNA. Work that falls outside of these rules will require a resource consent and in cases of non-compliant work, the Council can seek restoration of the SNA at the landowner’s expense.

Council is also looking to provide incentives through the Proposed District Plan to landowners who provide protection for their SNA.

What support is available for SNA landowners?

Landowners with SNAs can apply for the Council’s Biodiversity Fund, which can provide funding to assist with activities that will support the protection and restoration of SNAs.

The Council ecologist can also help with free advice and support with fencing, weed control, animal pest control, planting and restoration work, and help with applications for funding.

The Proposed Waimakariri District Plan proposes on-site development right incentives, either the right to subdivide off a 1-2 ha bonus lot (with allowance for a residential unit and minor residential unit), or build an residential unit, for the protection and restoration of a mapped SNA. Find out more about these proposed on-site development right incentives.

How can I find out more?

We’re keen to discuss any questions, feedback or concerns you may have.

You can reach the Development Planning Unit by email or phone Audrey Benbrook on 0800 965 468.

More information on the District Plan Review can be found online at