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Indigenous coverage of protected areas on land

Why we monitor indigenous coverage of protected areas on land

Photo of Pirongia Forest

Pirongia Forest.

The Waikato Regional Policy Statement has a policy to provide for (among other things) the promotion of voluntary legal protection, restoration or enhancement of indigenous biodiversity.

Terrestrial indigenous vegetation formerly covered most of the Waikato region, providing vital habitat for indigenous plants and animals. Clearance of indigenous vegetation, along with fragmentation and introduction of alien species, is considered one of the main causes of indigenous biodiversity decline. Legal protection in a gazetted reserve or other legal instrument is one method to protect indigenous habitat and biodiversity from deliberate destruction.

Maintaining a network of protected indigenous land cover is a core strategy in protecting biodiversity and the environment. Protected areas designated for the purpose of conserving biodiversity are set aside to maintain functioning natural ecosystems, to provide a refuge for species, and to maintain ecological processes that cannot otherwise be maintained in most of our intensely managed landscapes. Long-term or permanent legal protection of indigenous land cover, coupled with effective management, is therefore an important tool for the conservation of indigenous biodiversity.

In New Zealand, legally protected indigenous land cover can be on publicly or privately owned land, and include:

  • Department of Conservation reserves 
  • QEII covenants (private protected land)
  • Ngā Whenua Rāhui Kawenata (protected Māori-owned land)
  • other areas protected by territorial authorities or state owned land.

Some land is legally protected for the express purpose of protecting natural features from deliberate destruction/ development. In other cases, land has been set aside for another purpose, e.g. for recreation or future use for cemeteries or other public amenity. If such land has been gazetted under the Reserves Act, there is a secondary requirement to protect natural features in that parcel, to the extent compatible with the reserve’s stated purpose.

Waikato Regional Council has analysed the extent of indigenous vegetation on land (forest, scrub, tussock, fernland or lightly vegetated indigenous land cover) in the region that is in a form of legal protection (for example gazetted as a reserve, or identified as an open space covenant on land title). We also analyse protection of the region's National Priority 1 Environments, and calculate the indigenous coverage of our unprotected areas.

Monitoring trends in the type, location, and extent of protected areas gives us valuable information on how much protection we are giving to our region's unique biodiversity and whether our protected indigenous land cover network contains the full range of natural ecosystems in the region.

Monitoring protected natural ecosystems on land helps us to:

  • assess overall progress of total area protected as a measure of policy response to biodiversity loss.
  • track changes in extent of protected areas in relation to geographical and political units, and to different measures of biodiversity (such as priority areas, ecosystem or habitat maps and species distributions)
  • ensure a full range of habitats are protected to ensure that biodiversity is preserved.
  • find out what geographic areas are under-represented in the current reserves system.
  • identify priority areas for conservation. 

The monitoring outcomes can therefore guide adaptive management and policy decisions for biodiversity management planning.

What's happening?

Waikato Regional Council monitors changes in the amount and proportions of indigenous vegetation and lightly vegetated or un-vegetated natural land cover that is in some form of legal protection, including government reserves and private protected land.

Our indicator reports on what land cover types are protected, who is protecting it, and where it is protected.

This indicator shows that:

As of June 2016, around 18 per cent of the Waikato region’s land area is in some form of legal protection. Most of that is in natural cover, mainly indigenous forest (81 per cent of the protected indigenous land), followed by scrub and shrubland (14 per cent), with bare or lightly vegetated land and indigenous sedgeland or grassland each contributing just 2 per cent. The rest is built land (e.g. car parks) or non-indigenous cover such as grass or exotic trees.

Bare or lightly vegetated surfaces, and indigenous tussock sedgeland or grassland are relatively well protected, with over 80 per cent of region’s current extent in protection. Of our remaining extent of indigenous forest, 66 per is legally protected, while just 34 per cent of the remaining areas of scrub and shrublands are protected.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) owns or administers 89 per cent of the protected natural land cover, while 8 per cent is on private land and the rest is in district or regional council reserves. Relatively little indigenous land cover is protected in district council reserves, however this amount may be an under-estimate as data on district council reserves is less complete than for DOC or covenant data.

Within the district council areas, Thames-Coromandel District has the highest proportion of land in some form of protection (40 per cent of the district), while Waipa has the least amount of its total land area in protection (3 per cent). Of the amount of indigenous land cover remaining in each district, 70 per cent is protected in South Waikato District, and over 50 per cent in each of Waitomo, Taupo, Thames-Coromandel, Otorohanga, Matamata Piako, and Hauraki districts.

Private landowners have been protecting indigenous land cover in QEII Open space covenants in the Waikato region since 1979. Between 1996 and 2016, the amount of land in QEII covenants in the region increased from 4,563 to 14,104 hectares, an average rate of 477 hectares per year.

Nga Whenua Rahui kawenata offer 25 year term renewable covenants over Maori land. The first kawenata in the Waikato region was registered in 1993. Between 1996 and 2016 the amount of land protected by NWRK in the region increased from 899 to 15,255 hectares, an average rate of 763 hectares per year.

In alpine and sub-alpine areas, almost all of the remaining indigenous land cover is protected, while in montane and submontane areas 70 per cent of the remaining indigenous cover is protected. Indigenous vegetation in coastal and lowland areas have the least amount of protection, (24 per cent and 44 per cent respectively).

>>Find out more about these data and trends

More information


Copyright: Information obtained from Statistics New Zealand may be freely used, reproduced, or quoted unless otherwise specified. In all cases Statistics New Zealand must be acknowledged as the source.

When this indicator is updated

Updates will happen as new (region-wide) vegetation/cover spatial layers become available. It is estimated that this will be updated every 5 years.

Contact at Waikato Regional Council

Terrestrial and wetland ecologist - Science and Strategy Directorate

Last updated July 2017