New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(3): 332- 341

The nature of natural: defining natural character for the New Zealand context

Forum Article
Victoria A. Froude 1*
Hamish G. Rennie 2
Janet F. Bornman 1
  1. International Global Change Centre, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. Department of Environmental Management, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

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. Literature-derived interpretations of natural character and equivalent concepts are evaluated as to their potential suitability for developing a biophysical definition of natural character. Using a set of carefully designed criteria a subset of interpretations are condensed into a definition of natural character. The application of this definition is qualified following consideration of the literature addressing human perception and experiences of natural character. Appropriate reference conditions and baselines for evaluating natural character in different contexts are discussed.