Backyard Tāonga

We’ve been working with ecology and landscape specialists, and local Iwi to identify important natural areas of native bush and landscapes around the city. As part of the overall District Plan review, we will be consulting on new ways to protect these special places.

See the SNA Factsheet for a summary of what is being proposed in the Draft District Plan.

What is Backyard Tāonga?

Important natural landscapes, features, or areas of land with special wildlife, plants, or trees that are native and important to the biodiversity of our city.

To qualify sites need to meet certain criteria, they need to:

  • be a natural ecosystem that is no longer commonplace
  • have biological or physical features that are scarce or threatened
  • have diverse ecology, species and physical features
  • connect ecosystems or habitats for rare indigenous species
  • have significance to Tangata Whenua.

Where are they?

Everywhere! There are over 160 land areas around Wellington city that meet the criteria. Around half of these are on Council land. Many are on private land in suburbs and rural areas.

Backyard Tāonga Map Fact Sheets

What are we doing to protect them?

Over the last year (since September 2019), we have been working with landowners who have tāonga in their backyard. We are keen to hear their views on how best to protect these special places without getting in the way of day to day use and maintenance.

After we’ve considered their feedback, and have consulted as part of the overall District Plan Review, there could be changes to how much people can do to these areas without resource consent.

What does this mean to me?

If you have plans that involve clearing that part or your land, please give us a call. We’re keen to hear your views on how best to protect these places without getting in the way of day to day use and maintenance. After the District Plan has been through a review, and we have considered all the feedback, there could be changes to how much you can do to that area without resource consent.

What help can we offer?

We have people who know all about caring for native plants and places. Give us a call if you would like advice about pest control or ways to make your place even more beautiful.

Phone: 021 952 863


Why are we doing this?

We have unique plants and ecological systems that are at risk, and unique to the biodiversity of our city. As we plan for growth, this is our moment to protect what we have for future generations.

This work is also part of a nationwide Resource Management Act (RMA) requirement involving all Councils. Different Councils are at different stages of introducing policies to protect these habitats. We are doing this now because we are at the very start of an overall District Plan review.

How we got here

Frequently asked questions

What is the definition of ‘Backyard Tāonga’?

Pockets of natural land found on both private and public land. These are made up of natural ecosystems, outstanding landscapes and distinctive landmarks.

What is a Significant Natural Area (SNA)?

A natural ecosystem or habitat with significant indigenous biodiversity values. SNAs are identified by Wildlands Ecological Specialists against five criteria based on the Regional Policy Statement for Wellington Region. The criteria are: representativeness, rarity, diversity, ecological context, and tangata whenua values.

What are Outstanding Natural Landscapes (ONLs) and Natural Features (ONFs)?

ONLs | Outstanding Natural Landscapes

ONFs | Outstanding Natural Features

Natural landscapes and features that are exceptional with natural components that dominate over the influence of human activity. They are assessed as part of a landscape evaluation process, taking into account factors such as natural science, sensory elements, and the shared and recognised values of these areas.

What is a Special Amenity Landscape (SALs)?

This is identified using the same criteria as ONFs and ONLs. These landscapes are distinctive, widely recognised and highly valued by the community for their contribution to the amenity and quality of the environment of the city.

What does it mean if I have a tāonga in my backyard?

You could be affected down the line, so we’re keen to hear your ideas about the ways we can help. We want to work with landowners to help them protect these special places, without getting in the way of plans and progress.

Based on what people tell us, we’ll make some changes to the District Plan, which goes out for consultation as part of an overall review late 2020.  One option might be that we write in a resource consent process for people wanting to clear or significantly change that part of their land.

Right now we can we can offer advice on things like native plants, pest control or fencing – if you’d like help, or to know more we will be very pleased to hear from you.

Can I get my Significant Natural Area boundary assessed?

Absolutely.  If you think there’s something not right about the information we have please give us a call. We will be very happy to have one of our ecologists come and have a look with you.

I have plans to develop that part of my property, what can I do?

Give us a call. Let’s talk through the scale of what you have in mind, and how much this might affect what you have.  There are no rules about protecting Significant Natural Areas at present, but there may be ways we can help you protect and enhance what you have while carrying on with your plans.

Will this affect existing resource consents?

Resource consents generally stand for five years, so this work won’t affect existing resource consents so long as the work is completed before the consent period lapses.

How were Significant Natural Areas and Landscapes identified?

We worked with ecologists and landscape specialists Wildlands and Boffa Miskell to map Wellington’s threatened indigenous flora and fauna based on Department of Conservation classification.  We talked to local iwi about special landscapes.

Policy 23 of the Regional Policy Statement for the Wellington region states ‘District and regional plans shall identify and evaluate indigenous ecosystems and habitats with significant indigenous biodiversity values; these ecosystems and habitats will be considered significant if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Representativeness: the ecosystems or habitats that are typical and characteristic examples of the full range of the original or current natural diversity of ecosystem and habitat types in a district or in the region, and:
    1. Are no longer commonplace (less than about 30 % remaining)
    2. Are poorly represented in existing protected areas (less than about 20 % legally protected)
  2. Rarity: the ecosystem or habitat has biological or physical features that are scarce or threatened in a local, regional, or national context. This can include individual species, rare and distinctive biological communities and physical features that are unusual or rare.
  3. Diversity: the ecosystem or habitat has a natural diversity of ecological units, ecosystems, species and physical features within an area
  4. Ecological context of an area: the ecosystem or habitat:
    1. Enhances connectivity or otherwise buffers representative, rare or diverse indigenous ecosystems and habitats, or
    2. Provides seasonal or core habitat for protected or threatened indigenous species
  5. Tangata Whenua Values: the ecosystem or habitat contains characteristics of special spiritual, historical or cultural significance to tangata whenua, identified in accordance with Tikanga Maori.
How did you get ecological information about my property?

Ecologists completed a desktop study that was based mainly on aerial imagery, local site references and public viewing spots.  We have since written to people with land in one of these areas, asking them to let us know if they think there is anything not right about the information we have.  We are also very happy to have one of our ecologists come and visit.

What is the process from here?
  • September 2019 - Talk and help
  • Late 2020 - Draft District Plan consultation
  • Late 2021 - Proposed District Plan consultation
Why is it important?

We can work together to protect what can’t be replaced, especially as we plan for 50,000 to 80,000 more people in the next 30 years.  This work helps to protect our unique hills, ridgelines, and lowland forests that are loved by many. Big or small, your Backyard Tāonga contributes to the quality of our fresh water, fish and bird life, and our city’s invaluable carbon sinks.

Why am I getting a letter?

From what we can tell from the aerial mapping and assessment work, your property appears to fall into an area of land with iconic natural bush or features that are important to our city’s biodiversity.  We’re writing because we want to check that the information we have is correct, and ask you how we can work together.

Why have I received more than one map?

As well as native bush and habitats, Councils are asked to identify outstanding landscapes and amenities that are special to the community. If you received more than one map, you have more than one of the type of Backyard Tāonga.

Who do I talk to?

We are a team of ecologists, resource planners, landscapers, and mappers, and we are very happy to answer your questions over the phone, or in person.

Give us a call, or drop us an e-mail.


Phone: 021 952 863

When you asked for feedback on Planning for Growth, you told us that Wellington needs more houses. How does protecting green areas fit with that?

We received strong feedback from the Planning for Growth engagement about protecting green space.  This part of the Planning for Growth process is about identifying these important areas for protection, and allowing for growth in others.

What happens to the Hilltops and Ridgelines protection already in place?

At the moment Hilltops and Ridgelines have protections based on their natural, visual, heritage and recreation values in the District Plan. We will be reviewing the Hilltops and Ridgelines overlay during the District Plan review.

Are exotic forests considered Significant Natural Areas? Am I affected if I have plantation forest?

Exotic plantation forests do not meet the SNA criteria, so are not affected.

Are Manuka and Kanuka regarded as Significant Natural Areas?

These species have been recently listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘at risk’ due to the threat of Myrtle Rust. At the time our ecologists did the SNA identification work, Kanuka and Manuka were out of scope.  We are keeping an eye on the national direction for Manuka and Kanuka and will incorporate them when, and as needed.

How does Backyard Tāonga fit with the bigger picture?

We’re thinking about our city tomorrow.  As we plan for growth, align that to our city’s desire to move more people with less cars, in the context of the Council’s declaration of a climate and ecological emergency, we have a chance to get things right for generations to come.  Caring for native plants and landscapes has a tangible effect on water quality, and carbon sinks that enable a healthy green urban environment.

What’s to love about Backyard Tāonga?

Many of our native ecosystems have been cleared or extensively altered, and this trend continues today.

Diverse plant and animal communities stabilise our natural environment and make them more resilient. They provide supporting services such as the nutrient cycling, soil formation and photosynthesis.  They purify our air, help with plant pollination, disease control, climate stabilisation, flood mitigation, erosion control, and water purification.

They provide us with food, water, medicines, wood and fire.

The transitional habitats between land and water have many important functions. We have lots of those in Wellington, such as Makara and Karori Stream.

These places attract visitors, and give us recreation that keeps us healthy, mentally and physically. Their provisioning services are invaluable, too.

(MfE, 2019: Environment Aotearoa)

Will the proposed Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) impact on property prices?

We have commissioned a report on the potential impact of identifying and protecting SNAs on private property.  This report titled ‘Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) Implementation by Wellington City Council and Impact on Property Owners’ can be accessed via the following link

Please note: Some information in the report has been redacted under section 7(2)(a) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 in order to protect the privacy of natural persons.  It is also important to note that  the report is based on indicative provisions and case studies and it does not represent a final approach or definitive response to this question.


Audit of Potentially Significant Natural Areas for Wellington City: Stage 1 Desktop Analysis

Prepared by Wildland Consultants (2016)

This report is a technical, desktop study that identifies and assesses the significance of potential Significant Natural Areas, and which of the potential significant natural areas require further information and / or a site visit to be able to confirm the value and significance of those sites.

The report involved reviewing existing ecological information relevant to Wellington City, literature research and all the relevant background information on potential SNAs on public and private land, incorporating conservation threat classifications including the most recent assessments, information on the location, tenure, local authority, protection status, size and biodiversity values of each site was compiled into a database.

The Significant Natural Area site boundaries are adjusted and mapping of potential SNAs was undertaken in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) over an aerial photography background. Aerial photography was used to identify and map additional potential SNAs and these have also been assessed.

Each potential Significant Natural Area was assessed against the ecological significance criteria in Policy 23 of the Regional Policy Statement for the Wellington Region. These criteria are designed to meet our obligations under the Section 6(c) of the Resource Management Act. If one or more of these criteria was found to be significant for a potential Significant Natural Area then the site is ecologically significant. All assessments were recorded in a database.

Wildlands Report - Audit of Potentially Significant Natural Areas for Wellington City (December 2016) 

Wellington City Landscape Evaluation, Draft Technical Assessment Prepared for Wellington City Council

Prepared by Boffa Miskell (2019)

The Wellington City Landscape Evaluation report was commissioned to inform the development of measures for the long term management of the City’s landscapes. The evaluation identifies and maps landscapes as required by the Regional Policy Statement for the Wellington Region (RPS). Landscapes and features are categorized as either outstanding natural landscapes (ONLs), outstanding natural features (ONFs) or Special Amenity Landscapes (SALs).

Building on the 2014 Landscape Character Description (Boffa Miskell, 2014) that describes the on urban parts of Wellington City landscapes, the evaluation assesses the attributes that make them values in terms of the Regional Policy Statement and Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The evaluation considers landscapes and features that are highly valued for ecological, sensory, and aesthetic characteristics and contribution to community identity.

Boffa Miskell – Wellington City Landscape Evaluation (June 2019) PDF - 15820.49 KB

Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) Implementation by Wellington City Council and Impact on Property Owners

Prepared by Darroch

This report was commissioned to provide further information on the potential impact of identifying and protecting SNAs on private property.

The report concludes that, “The introduction of a policy for managing Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) will provide overall benefits to the communities throughout Wellington City…Any guidelines for individual properties will however need to be carefully balanced to ensure flexibility for upgrading existing properties and future land development…Based on the case studies within this report we conclude the impact on value from the introduction of SNAs will vary from property to property. The extent is dependent upon land size, contour, access, position of existing improvements and the potential/demand for future development.”

Please note: some information in the report has been redacted under section 7(2)(a) of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 in order to protect the privacy of natural persons. It is also important to note that the report is based on indicative provisions and case studies and it does not represent a final approach or definitive response to this question.

Darroch - Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) Implementation by Wellington City Council and Impact on Property Owners (2019) PDF - 3264.74 KB

Related links