Save the Denniston : 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.

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 these distinctive plateaux sits above the Buller Coal Measures – which have long been targeted by coal mining companies.

The Stockton Plateau has been half-destroyed by open-cast mining in the past few decades.

The Denniston Plateau has a history of small-scale underground mining, but because it has never been open-cast mined, it remains virtually intact. However all that is about to change.

Forest & Bird has spent the last three years fighting through the courts to stop Bathurst Resources from digging a 200-hectare coking coal mine.

Coking coal is used to make steel, but it is not the only means to do so. Bio-char, made from (for example) forestry waste, can be used to the same effect. 

In November 2013 Forest & Bird elected not to appeal an Environment Court decision to grant Bathurst permission to start mining the Department of Conservation-managed plateau.

This followed a three-year court battle to protect the Denniston. For much of that time, Forest & Bird’s case had been described as ‘finely balanced,’ i.e. Forest & Bird had a good case. But by November 2013, the advice was that an appeal was not likely to succeed in the long run, so instead an agreement was reached with Bathurst Resources that committed it to creating and protecting a reserve on the plateau. The Environment Court decision had only required Bathurst to undertake its “best endeavours” in order to create the reserve.    

Forest & Bird maintains that Bathurst’s mine should not go ahead, and that the Department of Conservation should have been a part of the court process. DOC lists the Denniston Plateau as one of the 50 most ecologically significant sites on mainland New Zealand.  

What Forest & Bird is campaigning for

The Denniston Plateau and surrounding areas are, in the main, public conservation land – or held as ‘stewardship land,’ which by definition has not had its ecological value formally acknowledged by its legal protection. 

In August 2013, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report that called for the government to urgently finish the never-completed process of designating stewardship land. If this had been done before Bathurst applied for its Resource Consent, its plan to mine would never have been able to proceed.   

Forest & Bird believes this area should be protected from the devastation of coal mining under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. 

Forest & Bird is campaigning for the creation of a reserve covering the remainder of the Denniston Plateau, the southern parts of the Stockton Plateau (that have not yet been mined), the upper Waimangaroa Gorge, and the Mt William Range.

The reserve wouldn’t include the small town of Denniston.

How you can help

  • Donate to Forest & Bird to assist with the promotion and the implementation of the reserve proposal.
  • Write to the Prime Minister and ask him to stop mining plans and turn the Denniston Plateau into a reserve.  Write similar letters to your local MP and other key ministers.
  • Send a message to our Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith telling him that you want the Denniston to remain untouched. 
  • Or write a personally addressed letter to: Minister of Conservation Nick Smith, Freepost, Private Bag 18041, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160. Click here to see our helpful letter template