Food, shelter, health, connections to other people, and the ability to provide for ourselves and our families contribute significantly to our wellbeing. All depend on having access to good quality land.

Land provides places and spaces to live, work, play, and socialise. It also generates benefits and goods to ensure good health and material gain. Benefits include food, energy, health, recreation, and identity (Ausseil et al., 2021). Wellbeing frameworks help us understand these links between nature and people.

Living in urban centres can reduce our exposure to nature, along with its benefits to physical and mental health. Māori in urban centres are at risk of losing the connection to their whenua. Intensive land use can affect human health in rural areas through infectious diseases transmitted by livestock.

Losing access to mahinga kai (food gathering) is significant for Māori. It is not just the loss of a food source – it also reduces the ability to exercise tikanga (customs), pass on mātauranga (knowledge), and manaaki (show hospitality). This all affects the mana (prestige) of people and the whenua (land).

Land provides jobs and income, and local changes in land use can cause unemployment or new opportunities.

Many coastal settlements are at risk from sea-level rise and exposure to storms and coastal erosion. This can affect personal safety as well as the investment made in the property. Neighbourhoods and lifestyle blocks that are close to pine forest or land with highly flammable plants (like grass) have a greater risk of damage from wildfires.

When land changes hands or is used for different purposes, it can disrupt the strong social connections that people have with their land or where they live.

Wellbeing frameworks

Wellbeing in Te Ao Māori

In te ao Māori (a Māori worldview), the health of animals, humans, and the environment is intimately connected (Harrison et al., 2020). If the whenua is not healthy, every dimension of whānau wellbeing suffers.

If the ecosystems and biodiversity where mahinga kai (food gathering) is practiced are lost, it means more than not being able to collect food to eat. These losses reduce taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing), hinengaro (emotional wellbeing), tinana (physical wellbeing), and whānau (family wellbeing) because the ability to exercise tikanga (customs) and mātauranga (knowledge) that has been passed down through generations is also lost. Not being able to manaaki (show hospitality) and share that kai (food) with whānau (family) and manuhiri (guests) also affects the mana (prestige) of the people and the whenua (land).

Te whare tapa whā is a Māori model of wellbeing that is used widely in the health sector. It provides a holistic understanding of how Māori view wellbeing and how it relates to culture, place, and nature (McIntosh et al., 2021). It uses a whare (house) and its four walls (tapa whā) to represent different components of wellbeing: taha wairua (spiritual), taha hinengaro (emotional), taha tinana (physical), and taha whānau (family interconnections). The foundation connects the whare to the whenua (land). To be strong, the whare must balance and connect all the dimensions.

The living standards framework

The Living Standards Framework represents the Treasury’s perspective on what matters for New Zealanders’ wellbeing, now and into the future. It is based on the OECD better life index that measures wellbeing in a way that is internationally comparable (OECD Better Life Index, 2020). Through the Framework, wellbeing can be assessed across 12 domains (New Zealand Treasury – Te Tai Ōhanga, 2019).

Living Standards Framework domains Wellbeing component and section title
  • Health
  • Time use
Land and health
  • Income and consumption
  • Jobs and earnings
  • Housing
Land and material wellbeing
  • Safety and security
Land and personal safety
  • Social connections
  • Subjective wellbeing
  • Cultural identity
  • Knowledge and skills
Land, culture, and social connection
  • Civic engagement and governance
Land, governance, and engagement
  • Environment
See chapter 4: Effects on the wider environment

Land and health

Access to nature

Easy access to nature improves the connection we have with nature. It also benefits our physical and mental health through exercise and a stronger immune system (Kuo, 2010). The value of being able to spend time in nature can help us during difficult times.

While our cities generally have good access to green spaces, people who live in urban areas often have less connection to nature than those in other areas (Blaschke et al., 2019; Duron-Ramos et al., 2020; Ma & Haarhoff, 2015). Access to nature has benefits for people living with mental illness (Kuo, 2010). A UK study found that people who lived in neighbourhoods with more vegetation and birdlife were less depressed, anxious, and stressed (Cox et al., 2017). Because of these benefits to health and wellbeing, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and the Department of Conservation partnered to encourage New Zealanders to spend time in nature (DOC, n.d.).

Green spaces with many different species (high biodiversity) are particularly beneficial. These areas can bring health benefits by introducing new and diverse microorganisms to our microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that are naturally present in our bodies) (Flies et al., 2017). Urban green spaces can also reduce exposure to air pollution and balance extreme temperatures (Zupancic et al., 2015).

Holding on to rongoā and mātauranga

Many native plants are treasured by Māori. Kūmarahou, mānuka, and kawakawa have been used by generations of Māori for rongoā (the practice of medicine and healing) and continue to sustain and restore Māori health and wellbeing.

Rongoā practitioners, however, are finding it more difficult to access the plants they need. Kūmarahou (Pomaderris kumeraho) used to grow abundantly in the far north, but has slowly disappeared as introduced weeds have taken over. Many native plants species are currently under threat from changes in land use and introduced species, and increased pressure from climate change (DOC, 2020).

If rongoā plants are not available, the rongoā the plants produce is lost, as well as the mātauranga (knowledge) and tikanga (practices) associated with the species (McGowan, 2011). A loss of mātauranga in the past 100 years has meant there are now very few Māori who can identify rongoā plants in the ngahere (forest). A 2018 survey of approximately 8,500 Māori people found that only 18 percent had gathered materials for use in traditional practices. The highest rates of gathering were in the far north and eastern regions of the North Island (Stats NZ, 2018). This loss is compounded because about 82 percent of Māori live in urban areas (Stats NZ, 2021a), which can limit access to whenua and ngahere.

Robert McGowan, expert rongoā practitioner says, “Rongoā is about the living connection between ourselves and the living world of the forest. That can only be gained by going into the forest and getting to know it as a friend, with all of its changes and moods, in all of the seasons. It can’t be done quickly, but it is the right place to learn.” (McGowan, 2011).

Risks from agriculture

Infectious diseases that jump from wildlife, such as COVID-19, are a risk to human health. When land is converted for agriculture or used more intensively, more livestock are in contact with wild animals and humans. This increases the risk that these infectious diseases will affect livestock and people (IPBES, 2020).

New Zealand’s native animals are not known to spread human diseases, but there is a high risk of introduced farm animals spreading diseases to humans in this country, particularly in rural communities (Crump et al., 2001). Diseases caused by bacteria such as Campylobacter, Leptospira, and Salmonella can be spread via animals, and some have been linked to intensive animal farming. The amount of farm animals in New Zealand per capita is high. The hazards of animal-spread diseases are also higher among agricultural workers here than in other countries where the ratio of humans to farm animals is lower (Crump et al., 2001; Green, 2014; ESR, 2020). Campylobacteriosis is the most frequently notified disease in New Zealand and in Canterbury, this disease was diagnosed more often in areas with more intensive animal farming (Ball, 2007; Green, 2014).

Land and material wellbeing

Material wellbeing is about having adequate food, shelter, and income. Some jobs are related to the land. In the year ended March 2020, 384,186 people were employed directly and indirectly in the tourism sector (Stats NZ, 2020d). In December 2020, 110,791 people were employed in land-based primary industries including agriculture, forestry, and related support services. In December 2020, there were 2,253,444 filled jobs in New Zealand (Stats NZ, 2021b).

Changes in land use can affect employment locally. In Southland for example, the change from sheep and beef to dairy farming from the mid-1980s led to a fall in employment in meat processing and an increase in dairy product processing. These transitions can be difficult, particularly for small towns like Mataura that was dependent on meat processing and where unemployment subsequently rose (Taylor, 2019).

Other land-use changes may bring new job opportunities. In the Bay of Plenty, changing from dairy farming to kiwifruit growing created new jobs for thinning, spraying, and mowing contractors and for seasonal pickers and packers. This surge in seasonal jobs, coupled with low unemployment rates in the region, has kept the demand for migrant workers high (Taylor, 2019).

Reclaiming land helps to reconnect people

The worst weeds – blackberry, gorse, willow, and honeysuckle – were as high and impenetrable as walls on either side of Te Kaikaitāhuna stream only a few months ago. They smothered an area that was used traditionally for food gardens and isolated the Ngāti Rangiwewehi people from their awa (river).

The beautiful Te Kaikaitāhuna stream begins at Hamurana Springs and carries cold, clear water to the northern end of Lake Rotorua. The area is culturally significant to Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Te Arawa and was used by tūpuna for healing and for performing karakia and spiritual ceremonies.

“There were no major conflicts at Hamurana Springs in the 1800s. It is known as a place of peace and it’s still peaceful – that’s one of the reasons I love going up there,” says Junette Putaranui, Ngāti Rangiwewehi.

In the kōrero (stories) of Ngāti Rangiwewehi, two taniwha, Hinerua and Pekehāua, are kaitiaki (guardians) of the waterway and the treasured kōaro (a native fish) are their children. Having access to the awa is essential for being able to continue cultural activities and traditions like mahinga kai (food gathering).

“Because of the weeds, you couldn’t see the water from the track and there was no way we could get to some parts of the awa. That affected the wairua of Te Kaikaitāhuna, the pest trapping work, and the monitoring for kōaro.”

About 30 percent of the Te Arawa people have had their employment affected by the fall in tourists visiting Rotorua because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobs for Nature funding through Te Arawa Lakes Trust, however, has provided help for both problems by providing employment for workers to clear the weeds.

Project manager William Anaru reports, “Ten te hunga tiaki (caretakers) started work in December and have already put in more than 1,500 hours’ work, with at least 30 trailer loads of weeds removed. It was a massive job. This has tidied up the site significantly, increased access, and enabled kōaro monitoring to re-start. People have also been able to connect with the awa again.”

Native tree planting is scheduled for later in the year and a regular weed spraying programme is in place.

Michael Hancock, Te Arawa, says he didn’t realise how significant Hamurana was to his iwi when he was growing up. “We’re now trying to help more people learn about the significance of the springs and the awa and bring the old stories back. People are staying here a lot longer to enjoy what we haven’t seen in a very long time. The visitors I talk to are amazed.”

In the future Michael would like to see the gardens around the springs re-established and watercress reintroduced.

“My parents and kaumātua (elders) said there used to be lots of watercress there but there isn’t any now. We’d like to try and re-establish it somewhere – it tastes so much better when you get it from the wild.”

Te Arawa Lakes Trust is using funding from Jobs for Nature to restore a number of wetlands in their region, including Te Kaikaitāhuna, through the Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora programme. The programme is designed to reinvigorate the economy, environment, and the community of Te Arawa. Its kaupapa is to create jobs and support skills initiatives that are aligned with national environmental projects. Thanks to Junette Putaranui (Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Te Arawa), William Anaru (Te Arawa), Michael Hancock (Te Arawa), and Deliah Balle (Te Arawa) for their contributions to this story. The mahi (work) of Pest Free Hamurana is also acknowledged.

Te Kaikaitāhuna stream.
Te Kaikaitāhuna stream.

Image: William Anaru

Land and personal safety

Approximately 7 percent of our population lived within 3 metres of the height of the average spring high tide in 2015, and more than 43,000 houses were within 1.5 metres of this level (Bell et al., 2015). These coastal settlements are at risk from sea-level rise and exposure to storms and coastal erosion (Glavovic et al., 2010). This can affect personal safety as well as the investment made in property.

Choices about how we use land can bring risks in other areas. When neighbourhoods and lifestyle properties are close to areas of pine forest or highly flammable plants, it increases the risk that wildfires pose to people and homes. The 2017 Port Hills fires near Christchurch posed more risk to people and property because of the multiple land uses in the area and the proximity of houses to flammable vegetation (Kraberger et al., 2018). In 2020, fires caused property damage in Lake Ōhau Alpine Village.

While some risks to personal safety cannot be avoided, effective planning can help reduce the risk that natural and human-caused events pose to wellbeing. Floods can cause significant damage to homes and people in vulnerable low-lying areas like floodplains. Protecting and restoring natural areas upstream (like wetlands) that slow the flow of run-off water can reduce the risks of flooding in low-lying areas. This approach may be cheaper in the long term than building costly flood-protection infrastructure like stopbanks, which also require more ongoing maintenance (Clarkson et al., 2013; Van den Belt et al., 2013).

A strategy for managing eroding coastal areas in Hawke’s Bay used two approaches to reduce the risks to people – building sea walls and other structures, and supporting communities to leave the most at-risk areas (Bendall, 2018). After the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, green and red zoning was used to keep people safe from the resulting unstable land and liquefaction (Saunders & Becker, 2015).

Land, culture and social connection

People in farming communities have a strong connection to their land or the place where they live (Curran-Cournane et al., 2016). When land changes hands or is used for different purposes, it can cause social changes in a community through a loss of traditions and shared cultural values (Taylor, 2019). These changes can also cause people to take up new opportunities like tourism (Mackay et al., 2009).

The resilience of Māori communities can depend on the cultural background, history, identity, and availability of Māori land. Māori people, however, have lived through extreme social and economic shocks because of land confiscation, resource alienation, racism, and loss of employment (Pomeroy & Tapuke, 2016). These shocks have ongoing social and cultural effects. Urban Māori are particularly at risk of losing a connection to their ancestral land, as well as associated mātauranga, tikanga, and all the dimensions of te whare tapa whā (see Wellbeing in te ao Māori section) (Walker et al., 2019).

Local iwi retain a close connection to the environment and have noticed declines in biodiversity and ecosystem health using cultural indicators. A decline in the number of kererū in Te Urewera has been observed by Tūhoe in the past 50 years. They attributed the decline to the removal of Tūhoe’s mana over kererū by Crown authorities outlawing the harvest of kererū, as well as Tāne Mahuta reclaiming the mauri of the kererū because fewer birds were being harvested and people had less respect for the birds (Lyver et al., 2008).

Land, governance, and engagement

The wellbeing of a society is more than the sum of its members’ individual wellbeing. It relates to the trust in, and perceived quality of institutions (such as government) and their processes and procedures, as well as the ability to engage and participate (Smith, 2018).

Participating in discussions about values and outcomes as individuals and communities is one way to influence decisions around land use and have a voice in related environmental issues. Examples of strategies to bring communities into governance and decision-making include Te Mana o te Wai and Te Mana o te Taiao – Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (DOC, 2020; MfE, 2017). Engagement with Māori, individuals, and communities throughout the preparation of the strategies was promoted as a way to ensure sustainable and equitable development and enhance societal wellbeing (Barrett et al., 2020).

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