Natural environment

A river winds through a green hilly landscape below blue sky

Find out how we identify and protect our indigenous biodiversity, landscapes and coastline.

Natural environment of Lower Hutt

Three major river valleys – the Hutt/Te Awa Kairangi, Wainuiomata and Orongorongo – dominate the physical environment of Lower Hutt, which rises from flat river terraces to steep bush-covered hills, terminating in beaches and coastal cliffs.

This landform has meant development has focused along the coast and on the flat valley floors. The hills that surround these valleys are mostly covered in forest, much of which is regenerating native vegetation, giving a green backdrop to the urban areas.

Development, human activity and climate change are putting pressure on Lower Hutt’s natural environment, its native trees and animals, landscapes and coastline. This means we need to take stock of how we identify, manage and protect these treasures.

Natural environment and the district plan

The Resource Management Act (RMA) and the Wellington Regional Policy Statement require councils to identify and protect areas of significant native vegetation and habitat, landscape and natural features, and the natural character of the coast, lakes and rivers. This is deemed a matter of national importance.

Indigenous biodiversity

Indigenous biodiversity means the variety of native plant and animal life naturally occurring in any particular area. Nationally, our native biodiversity is declining. While we have large areas of regenerating indigenous habitat in Lower Hutt, they contain some rare and endangered species and very little is left of some types of habitat such as wetlands. Many of these areas are on public land, but some are on private property.

Council acknowledges landowners and community groups are doing some impressive work protecting and enhancing biodiversity across the city. However, council must implement policies on protecting indigenous biodiversity in accordance with the RMA and Wellington Regional Policy Statement. In addition, a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, released by central government in July 2023, requires councils to identify and protect Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) through their district plans.  We will be getting in touch with landowners of potential SNAs as part of the District Plan review process, at this stage around late 2023 to early 2024.

We want to work with our communities and landowners through the review process to identify, protect and enhance significant areas of native vegetation and habitats. We also want to understand how we can further support the work landowners are already doing to protect indigenous biodiversity, while carrying out statutory requirements, and providing for social and economic wellbeing.

Natural features and landscape

Lower Hutt’s distinctive landscapes reflect our city’s natural and social history and contribute to our sense of place and identity. Māori narratives tell us that our landscapes hold great significance to Mana Whenua, and are part of the broader Lower Hutt story.

The significance or value of a landscape is determined by natural elements, by scenic or sensory value, and by cultural, spiritual, or social associations. Natural features are generally smaller parts of the larger landscape that have distinctive characteristics.

Human development without adequate control can damage the value and significance of our natural features and landscapes.

As with indigenous biodiversity, the RMA and Wellington Regional Policy Statement require council to identify and protect significant natural features and landscapes.

Natural character

The natural character of an area is determined by natural processes, natural elements, and natural patterns. It can be heightened by the movement of water, by natural landforms, by the darkness of the night sky, by the sounds of the waves and the smells of the sea.

Places that are pristine and wild generally have high or outstanding natural character, while modified environments generally have lower natural character value.

The district plan review is required to identify the natural character of our coast and rivers and develop provisions to protect important areas from activities that may reduce their value.

As with other topics, the RMA and the Wellington Regional Policy Statement require council to identify and protect natural character through the district plan.

Coastal environment

Lower Hutt has a long coastline ranging from the highly modified beaches of Petone and Eastbourne to the rugged untouched raised beaches of Turakirae Head.

Almost the entire coastline is accessible to the public and thousands of people live, work or play along it. It is also vulnerable to natural hazards such as erosion, rising sea levels, storms and tsunami.

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and the Wellington Regional Policy Statement require the district plan to have special consideration for the complicated issues that relate to our coastal environment.

Public access

Lower Hutt’s waterbodies and the coast are highly valued, especially for their natural beauty, recreation value, ecological value, and cultural significance. Public access to waterbodies provides the community with the ability to enjoy and appreciate rivers, lakes and the coast and enhances general wellbeing.

The RMA recognises public access as a matter of national significance and requires district plans to establish esplanade reserves or strips (esplanades) when properties adjoining lakes, rivers or the coast are subdivided. Esplanades provide legal access and can enhance the natural environment.

Examples of prominent esplanades are the Hutt River corridor and the Petone foreshore.

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