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Dunedin City Council – Kaunihera-a-rohe o Otepoti
Green pattern.

The Dunedin context

Dunedin’s ecosystems

Dunedin’s natural environment is unique, from the Rock and Pillar Range to the Aramoana Saltmarsh. The harbour, hinterland, coast, islands, rivers, wetlands and streams provide a magnificent setting for the region’s distinctive flora and fauna.

The natural environment has ancestral, spiritual and cultural value to Kāi Tahu, and provides the places and resources that sustain cultural traditions and practices. The Council recognises and supports the importance of mahika kai to Manawhenua and its place at the heart of Kāi Tahu values.

Within our city’s boundary there are natural habitats that are home to numerous native plant and animal species, 30 of which are found only in Dunedin. These habitats provide a wide range of important ecosystem services that sustain us and our health and wellbeing by providing food, clean air and water, and healthy soil. Some of Dunedin’s ecosystems provide other services such as stormwater cleaning swales, regenerating woody vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide and water-producing tussock grasslands. We will continue to work with landowners to help sustain the ecosystem services that benefit the whole community.

Research shows that being exposed to the natural environment has direct positive effects on physical and mental wellbeing[2]. The sense of identity we experience when we connect to local natural places has positive effects. It is part of what is called the ‘biophilia hypothesis’ – the instinctive bond between human beings and other living things.

Dunedin’s communities

Many landholders, organisations, community groups and individuals are doing great work for Dunedin’s natural environment. Local environmental champions include schoolchildren, teachers, farmers, gardeners, conservationists, scientists, volunteers and iwi. The Council has a strong relationship with the two Kāi Tahu rūnaka in Dunedin and works with them to protect places of particular importance. We value the people who work hard to protect, restore and enhance Dunedin’s natural environment. Their work benefits everyone and as a city we want to recognise and celebrate their achievements. 

Special places

Dunedin has an abundance of special natural places. The Otago Peninsula’s wildlife has led to Dunedin being dubbed the wildlife capital of New Zealand. It is home to world-famous species, including hoiho (yellow-eyed penguins), little blue penguins, sea lions and the only royal albatross colony located on a mainland. In 2010, Lonely Planet named Otago Peninsula one of the top ten destinations in the world for ‘twitchers’ (birdwatchers). The Orokonui Ecosanctuary, between Port Chalmers and Waitati, is a predator-fenced forested valley where threatened species are being re-introduced, including kiwi, robin, tuatara and the Otago skink.

Dunedin has more than 11,300ha of public and private land protected by the District Plan or a Queen Elizabeth II covenant. In addition, the Department of Conservation protects 24,700ha of conservation reserves, and the DCC protects a further 1500ha of reserve land with biodiversity value. Collectively, more than 36,000ha of land with conservation value are protected, or 11% of Dunedin’s land area, representing 0.3ha of protected land for every Dunedin resident. 

The entire Dunedin city area is a wāhi tūpuna (ancestral landscape) as it was used and valued by Manawhenua. Wāhi tūpuna sites include, but are not limited to, settlements, battle sites, burial places, wāhi tapu and wāhi taoka sites, mahika kai areas and resources, trails and significant landscape features such as peaks, ridgelines and views.

An Open Space covenant is a legal agreement between a private landowner and the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust and is registered on the title to the land. The agreement is voluntary and binds current and subsequent landowners in perpetuity. There are 66 registered QEII covenants in the Dunedin area (with more in the pipeline) protecting a total of 672ha of land with special conservation value.


The New Zealand Tourism Strategy recognises a sustainable tourism sector cannot be achieved in isolation, and we need to develop a whole of New Zealand environmental management plan that demonstrates our commitment as a nation to a clear, co-ordinated response to environmental issues.[3] We want our special places and natural resources to be accessible to locals and visitors, but we also want to protect these places from damage and unsustainable use. Careful management is needed to protect Dunedin’s natural environment for future generations to use and enjoy. As we continue to protect, restore and enhance Dunedin’s ecosystems, we will build on the city’s nature and wildlife reputation and help strengthen the local economy.[4] We want our special places and natural resources to be accessible to locals and visitors, but we also want to protect these places from damage and unsustainable use. Careful management is needed to protect Dunedin’s natural environment for future generations to use and enjoy. As we continue to protect, restore and enhance Dunedin’s ecosystems, we will build on the city’s nature and wildlife reputation and help strengthen the local economy.

Dunedin attracts about two million visitors annually with an average of 5500 visitors daily. Enterprises directly involved in viewing wildlife on the Otago Peninsula have a gross annual turnover of around  $6.5 million and employ the equivalent of 70 full-time staff..[5]

Challenges and solutions

A changing climate

The Council is working to understand the effects of climate change and to plan for climate change adaptation. Responding to these challenges is one of the main objectives of Te Ao Tūroa. As the responsibility of planning for sea level rise rests primarily with local government, the Council is developing options for areas at risk and will engage with communities as this work progresses.

Climate change impacts in Dunedin mean more extreme rainfall events, storms, floods, droughts, fires and extreme winds. Rising sea levels and groundwater in low-lying areas are seen as the biggest risks.[6] IIn parts of Dunedin, the water table is very close to the surface and is connected to the sea, increasing the risks of inundation and salination. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found that the St Kilda and South Dunedin floods in 2015 were made worse by a high water table, which prevented water from prolonged heavy rainfall and high tides from draining away.[7]

Indigenous animal and plant species are most at risk from climate change. Major changes are expected in all groups of vegetation. Rising sea levels increase salt water intrusion in river flows, and warmer temperatures alter the species composition of fresh water habitats.

Sea level rise is a result of sea water warming and expanding, mountain glaciers retreating and polar ice sheets shrinking.

People and the environment

Human activity changes the natural environment. People’s daily decisions and actions have impacts – both positive and negative – on vegetation, animals, soil, water, landform and climate. We recognise that it takes a lot of work just to maintain the status quo of the environment’s health. Unless we take collective responsibility and action, environmental degradation is the likely result. However, people can also have a positive effect when we learn what to do to minimise or eliminate the negative impacts our decisions and actions have on the environment.


For several hundred years, Dunedin’s natural resources have been used for the survival of the people who have travelled and settled here. While there were some human-induced losses, the region before European arrival was still covered in diverse vegetation types, from coastal scrub and wet forest to inland dry forest and tussockland, and alpine and sub-alpine vegetation at higher altitudes. Following European settlement, these areas were converted for large-scale agriculture and urban development. Most natural habitats were lost and many indigenous species disappeared. The loss has been compounded by introduced plant and animal pests. Today, around three-quarters of the Dunedin region is covered in exotic vegetation and artificial or impervious surfaces.[8]

Dunedin’s biodiversity continues to face risk from land clearance and modification, pest animals and plants, and fragmented vegetation and animal populations. There are many organisations and individuals working hard to help reverse biodiversity loss..

In 2007 the Council set up the Biodiversity Fund to support landowners wanting to protect, restore and enhance indigenous biodiversity on their land. From September 2013 to September 2015, the Council approved more than $153,000 to support biodiversity projects on private land.

Resource use

The natural environment supports and sustains us and is essential to our wellbeing. However, the natural resources our environment provides are limited and must be managed sustainably to ensure our future survival. Across the Dunedin region, the effects of climate change will increase the seasonality of rainfall, with longer dry periods, and water supply will need to be managed accordingly. Local food production is already adapting to a changing environment, and to the demand for more sustainable farming methods. 

In Dunedin 716kg of waste per person/per year is being sent to landfill – based on the 2010/11 total waste to landfill divided by Dunedin’s population. Just over one quarter of the waste collected was organic.[9]

One of the aims of Te Ao Tūroa is to minimise waste to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use resources sustainably. Te Ao Tūroa reinforces our aspiration of a zero waste city, which is being taken forward through Dunedin’s Waste Management and Minimisation Plan.

New Zealand enjoys a large amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, but we also import a significant amount of non-renewable energy, with oil making up over half of total consumer energy. Dunedin’s high rate of car ownership and dependence correlates with increasing vehicle travel, oil usage and carbon emissions.[10]

Being forward-looking when it comes to energy is essential if we are to meet the city’s aims to have healthy people in warm homes, reduce our reliance on non-renewable energy sources and explore how to make more use of our own renewable energy sources. The Energy Plan, which is about the city taking action to address these and other energy issues, reinforces the goals and objectives of Te Ao Tūroa.[11]

At 58% of total energy inputs, Dunedin’s use of transport fuels sits above the national average. In Dunedin other energy inputs are electricity (31%), LPG (3%), coal (5%) and wood fuels (3%). The biggest consumers of energy in Dunedin are the transport and industrial sectors, which in 2011 consumed 70% of all energy.[13]

The DCC’s roles:

The DCC promotes positive environmental outcomes in its roles as provider, funder, facilitator and advocate through activities such as:

  • spatial and land use planning to protect the natural environment and manage resources sustainably
  • working with others to protect and enhance native plants, wildlife and coastal environments
  • managing parks, gardens and reserves, including the Town Belt, and maintaining walking and cycling tracks
  • disposing of solid waste and water discharges in an environmentally responsible manner
  • facilitating and encouraging activities that lessen environmental impacts, such as cycling, walking and minimising waste
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its operations to help reduce costs and achieve sustainability goals
  • divesting equity investments in fossil fuels
  • working in partnership with Kāi Tahu to enhance Dunedin’s natural resources

Some of the things the DCC is doing now:

  • The Emissions Management and Reduction Plan has targets to reduce emissions, including non-landfill emissions, by 20% from 2013/14 levels within five years. 
  • Most of the DCC’s emissions come from the Green Island landfill. To help reduce these, the DCC is focused on a number of initiatives such as minimising household waste and extending recycling collections.
  • Projects such as replacing lighting in the City Library with a more energy efficient system are expected to reduce annual carbon emissions by 54 tonnes. Another example is the plan to replace streetlights with more energy efficient and longer lasting LEDs.
  • The Council’s commitment to the Compact of Mayors is about the city joining global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change. An action plan will be developed to deliver on this commitment. 
  • The Energy Plan outlines the ways different sectors can collaborate to reduce Dunedin’s climate change and environmental effects. The Plan’s BioMassive Project is exploring the city’s biomass resources for viable energy alternatives. 
  • The Strategic Cycle Network is designed to provide cyclists with greater connectivity and safety. It caters to both recreational and commuting cyclists, contributes to fewer cars on the road and provides opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the harbour and the city’s green spaces.
  • The DCC manages a number of reserves for their landscape, biodiversity, archaeological, recreation and production values, including the 328 ha Hereweka/Harbour Cone working farm, which is managed by the Harbour Cone Trust on the DCC’s behalf.[14]

Strategic fit

National context

A range of national legislation, strategies and policy documents sets the broader strategic context for protecting and enhancing Dunedin’s natural environment, including the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme and the Resource Management Act 1991.

Regional context

The Kāi Tahu ki Otago Natural Resources Management Plan 2005 outlines the natural resource values, concerns and issues of Kāi Tahu in Otago. The Otago Regional Council’s Regional Policy Statement provides a high level policy framework for sustainably managing Otago’s resources and identifies regionally significant issues.

Local context

With the community and stakeholders, the Council has developed a strategic framework to deliver on Dunedin’s vision to be one of the world’s great small cities. The Council identifies the city’s strategic priorities and agrees on resourcing to deliver on these priorities through the three-yearly Long Term Plan process, and within the parameters of the Financial Strategy.

Strategic Framework

The principles that underpin the strategic framework are a commitment to sustainability and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Sustainability – the Council takes a sustainable development approach that takes into account the social, economic and cultural interests of Dunedin’s people and communities, maintaining and enhancing the quality of the natural environment and the needs of future generations.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Council values its relationship with the two local rūnaka, Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, and operates in accordance with the Treaty of Waitangi principle of partnership with regard to Kāi Tahu’s environmental aspirations. The Council acknowledges that this partnership is essential to achieving the goals and objectives of Te Ao Tūroa.

Strategy development

Te Ao Tūroa was initially developed from assessing the community’s existing environmental priorities. The DCC reviewed feedback from consultation processes that took place from 2009 to 2015. More than 11,000 individual submissions were reviewed and analysed. The key themes identified were:

  • people appreciate the intrinsic and aesthetic values of the flora and fauna around them
  • protecting, restoring and enhancing native bush and indigenous ecosystems, including the control of invasive weeds and predators, are high priorities
  • the city’s beaches should be clean and erosion should be managed
  • significant cultural and visual landscapes should be protected from inappropriate development
  • the city’s dependence on fossil fuels should be reduced by improving energy efficiency, increasing the use of public transport and providing for active modes of travel
  • people are concerned about pollution and rubbish being dumped within the natural environment and want ecologically responsible management and treatment of water discharges into the natural environment.

The Council then worked closely with Kāi Tahu to develop a draft Environment Strategy and asked for community feedback during July and August 2015. This feedback identified greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and biodiversity loss as the community’s three biggest concerns. The Council also worked closely with Kāi Tahu to develop the final strategy. Key stakeholders who have contributed to and endorse the strategy in principle are the Otago Regional Council, Forest and Bird, the Otago Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Dunedin City, Federated Farmers and the Department of Conservation. 


  1. Blaschke, P (2013) Health and wellbeing benefits of conservation in New Zealand
  2. New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015
  3. New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015
  4. Tisdell, C (2007) The Economic Importance of Wildlife Conservation on the Otago Peninsula – 20 Years On
  5. Fitzharris, B. (2010) Climate Change Impacts for Dunedin
  6. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2015) Preparing New Zealand for rising seas: Certainty and Uncertainty
  7. A Biodiversity Strategy for Dunedin City 2007
  8. Waste Management and Minimisation Plan 2013
  9. Dunedin City Integrated Transport Strategy 2013
  10. The Energy Plan 1.0
  11. The Dunedin Energy Baseline Study (2015)
  12. An Energy Plan for Dunedin: Discussion Document (2015)

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