The assessment of ecological significance is a key part of a territorial local authoritys (TLA) responsibility to provide for the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna as required under Section 6(c) of the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991. While a number of methods have been used to achieve this, these have been largely unpublished and there is considerable variability in the approach taken by different TLAs.
New Zealand has a long-standing statutory policy goal to preserve the natural character of the coastal environment and various freshwater environments and their margins. In the absence of an authoritative definition, it has not been possible to develop a method to measure natural character and its change, nor the outcomes of the long-standing national policy goal. Here we develop a definition of natural character that is relevant and useful in the New Zealand environmental, cultural and legal/policy context.