Forest & Bird’s fight for Denniston continues

Save the Denniston Plateau: Ours Not Mine

Help us to keep coal in the ground and protect our rare and threatened landscapes

Paved with sandstone and edged with rocky outcrops, Denniston Plateau is home to a number of geological curiosities that bring to mind images of Middle Earth.

The unique rock formation that makes up this ancient part of New Zealand gives rise to a rich mosaic of life that is only found here: bonsai gardens of rata, tussock and pygmy pine.

Coal: The planet’s dirtiest fuel

“Coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet,” NASA Climate Change scientist, James Hansen, who gave evidence via video at the resource consent hearing. At a time when it is crucial we rein in our carbon emissions, our government is actively looking to mine one of the planet’s dirtiest fuels: coal. If this mine goes ahead, it will increase our exports by 63% a year.

Life in these parts remains unseen unless you stop, look and listen.

At night, great spotted kiwi and our carnivorous giant snails can be found hunting out worms and grubs.

Cryptically hidden in the shrublands lie  vast communities of green geckos, ground weta and speckled skinks.

Doused with an annual rainfall of 6 metres, water carves the quartzose sandstone into unusual shapes.

This thunderous rain carries the rock’s distinct mineral signature and forms acidic streams that harbour thumb-sized freshwater crayfish (koura).

We do know that this is one of earth’s rare and special eco-systems, what we don’t know is quite how special it is – with new species being discovered all the time.

Powelliphanta Patrickensis

This nationally endangered giant carnivorous snail is only found on the Buller Coal Plateau and has been progressively pushed out by coal mining. Its cousin – Powelliphanta augusta – once lived on a 5 hectare mountaintop on the Stockton plateau. To mine the site Solid Energy picked up every last snail in the hope of translocating them. All three attempts are failing, and now the only ‘safe’ population lives in a fridge.

Green Gecko

The green gecko is found on the branches of the stunted kanuka and manuka forests on the Denniston plateau. Like many geckos they are very vocal, however while most geckos produce a chirping sound, green geckos ‘bark’ to attract mates.

Bonsai Rata

The depleted soils of the Denniston plateau have given rise to a stunted forest of Southern rata. These rata only grow up to 1 metre, whereas rata elsewhere in the country will grow to 20 metres tall.

Ground Weta

This secretive burrowing weta can be found in the Denniston plateau residing in small tunnels. They are mainly carnivorous however they can be found feeding on fruits. To attract mates these wetas drum on their abdomens.

Sandstone plateaus and tors

The plateau is covered in ancient rock made up of hard quartzose sandstone. The high rainfall in the area erodes much of the thin upper soil to reveal large pavements. Pools, streams and wetlands are dotted throughout this landscape filled with miniature freshwater crayfish. Mining could raise the PH levels of this water to inhospitable levels for these crayfish and invertebrate creatures. e

Great Spotted Kiwi

The mountains of North-west Nelson are the stronghold for Great Spotted Kiwi with the majority of the 22,000 individuals live on these peaks. In the past 45 years there has been a 45% decline in population largely due to predation and habitat destruction. They are now listed as vulnerable.

What’s happening?

Unfortunately this rare and distinctive elevated plateau overlies the Buller coal measures – and has been targeted over the last century for coal mining.

The adjacent Stockton Plateau has been half destroyed by opencast mining in the past few decades. The Denniston Plateau has a history of underground mining, but has been spared – until now – this fate.

A new opencast coal mine proposed for the Denniston Plateau would destroy 200 hectares and increase New Zealand’s coal exports by up to 63% per year. But that would only be the beginning. The Australian company holds mining permits across the Plateau, which would generate an estimated 50 million tonnes of coal.