New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2014) 38(1): 139- 146

Compensating for ecological harm – the state of play in New Zealand

Research Article
Marie A. Brown 1*
Bruce D. Clarkson 1
R.T. Theo Stephens 2
Barry J. Barton 3
  1. Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
  3. Faculty of Law, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Ecological compensation involves measures to create positive conservation outcomes intended to offset the residual impacts of development (e.g. restoration planting, pest control). Rarely, however, have the exchanges arranged been subject to objective assessment. Here we assess 110 cases of ecological compensation involving diverse New Zealand ecosystems on the basis of how they addressed the six key implementation issues identified by McKenney and Kiesecker (2010: Environmental Management 45: 165–176): equivalence, location (i.e. spatial proximity), additionality, timing, duration and compliance, and currencies. Our research showed that habitat enhancement and protection is the most common form of ecological compensation, and that 72 of 110 case studies undertook compensation on the same site or immediately adjacent. The great majority (94.5%) of compensation was required by condition of resource consent to be demonstrated after the development had proceeded, with an average of 11.3 years of continuing management or monitoring required. The most common form of security other than a consent condition was a covenant (29 of 110 cases) followed by a resource management bond (25). We also found that in 97 cases there was no objective quantification of the compensation needed to make up for impact losses, with the requirements being devised by negotiation between parties with the assistance of expert input. We recognise the potential of ecological compensation as a policy tool, but recommend that significant improvements are made to its implementation to enhance ecological outcomes.