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Methods - how we monitor

How indigenous coverage of protected areas on land is defined

Indigenous coverage

Indigenous coverage refers to natural areas that are dominated by indigenous species. On land, this is defined as areas of indigenous forest, scrub or shrubland, tussock grassland, fernland or lightly vegetated natural areas such as alpine gravel or sand dunes and permanent snow or ice. We use classes from the Land Cover Database.1 Aquatic indigenous vegetation is covered by other indicators in the State of the Environment Indicator series.

Protected areas

Legally protected areas are defined as: places where natural or cultural resources and biodiversity are protected, maintained and managed by law.2

We have limited our definition of legal protection to areas protected in perpetuity or for a specified period under one of the following acts:

  • Conservation Act 1987
  • National Parks Act 1980
  • Reserves Act 1977
  • Wildlife Act 1953
  • Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust Act 1977
  • Local Government Act 2002

The Reserves Act 1977 and Conservation Act 1987 offer the most common methods for protecting public land in perpetuity, particularly with a focus on biodiversity protection. Either Act can be used to register land as a conservation covenant or Nga Whenua Rahui (with the same text appearing in each act).

The general purpose of the Reserves Act 1977 is to provide for the preservation and management, for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, areas of New Zealand possessing the following values: recreational use or potential; wildlife, indigenous flora or fauna; environmental and landscape amenity or interest; natural, scenic, historic, cultural, archaeological, biological, geological, scientific, educational, community, or other special features or value. It further aims to ensure as far as possible the survival of all indigenous species of flora and fauna, both rare and commonplace, in their natural communities and habitats, and the preservation of representative samples of all classes of natural ecosystems and landscape which in the aggregate originally gave New Zealand its own recognisable character.

The purpose of the Conservation Act 1987 is to promote the conservation of New Zealand's natural and historic resources, and for that purpose, to establish a Department of Conservation.

Land under legal protection for conservation purposes is managed in New Zealand by a number of agencies. The main tenure types are described below.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is the central government organisation charged with conserving the natural and historic heritage of New Zealand. DOC is responsible for protecting and preserving the majority of legally protected public land in New Zealand. Most of the DOC reserves come under the Conservation Act 1987, with some under the Reserves Act 1977. They include Stewardship land which is subject to potential disposal but until such time are to be managed for their natural and historic values3.

The Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust (QEII Trust) works with private land owners who wish to have some or all of their land legally protected. A covenant is registered on the title to the land, providing legal protection that binds the current and all subsequent landowners. The Trust generally contributes to the establishment of the covenant and regularly monitors the land to ensure it is managed in accordance with the covenant conditions. The first covenant was registered in 1979.

Nga Whenua Rahui was established in 1991 to provide a vehicle for protection of Maori owned land in multiple titles. Ngā Whenua Rāhui kawenata can be registered under the Reserves Act 1977 (s77a) or the Conservation Act 1987 (s27a). Kawenata are vested for 25 years and are renewable. Trend reporting will indicate the extent to which such protected areas remain protected after their renewal period ends. To date no kawenata have reached the end of their vesting period in the Waikato Region. Kawenata Management Agreements are not treated as protected land for the purposes of this indicator.

Local authority reserves are a range of reserve types protected under the Reserves Act 1977, including Esplanade Reserves, Scenic Reserves and Recreation Reserves. Local purpose reserves may be set aside for specific purposes such as drainage, water supply or sewage management. Local purpose road reserves were treated as not protected for the purpose of this indicator as the assumption is that this land is set aside for future road widening purposes.

Regional parks were established under the Local Government Act 2002. In the Waikato Region, as of 2016, this was limited to the section of the Hunua Ranges and other regional parks, inherited as part of the local authority boundary adjustments in 2012.

The following types of land designations are not included in this indicator:

  • District Council Covenants issued as consent notices under the Resource Management Act 1991 (s108) or Conservation covenants on private land established under the Reserves Act 1977 (s77) or the Conservation Act 1987 (s27). The data sets for these areas are incomplete and many have not been digitised.
  • Maori reserves and Maori reservations. The relevant Acts do not specifically require protection of biodiversity or natural values, although it is noted that many such sites are effectively managed for those values.
  • Private covenants entered as consent notices on land titles (e.g. Forest and Bird land). The data for private covenants other than those registered through the QEII National Trust is inconsistent and difficult to extract as many had not been digitised at the time of the indicator development.
  • Areas of land classified in the CRS (Core Record System) as "declared a reserve" as such land is presumed to be pending registration in the Gazette, and therefore not formally reserved at the time the indicator was published. These will be incorporated in future updates of this indicator once they have been gazetted, assuming their CRS_Purpose field is updated.
  • Parcels in the Nga Whenua Rahui database classified as “management agreements” - these are not registered on the title, or binding on future owners. 
  • Parcels that are classified as potential reserve types in the Core Record System attribute CRS_Purpose (e.g. scenic reserve) but are not included in either the DOC, QEII or NWRK data layers, and are not listed as being owned or occupied by a local authority, are treated as “Indeterminate”.
  • Parcels where CRS_purpose is not clear regarding reserve status, e.g. water supply, are treated as “Indeterminate”.

Threatened environments

In 2007, the Government released a statement of national priorities for protecting rare and threatened biodiversity on private land4. The priorities are also relevant to public land.

Protecting biodiversity in Acutely and Chronically threatened land environments is a National priority (see Table 1). Here, 20 per cent is a critical threshold for measuring ecosystem vulnerability - the rate of biodiversity loss increases dramatically when the amount of available habitat drops below 20 per cent of its original extent. Therefore, National Priority 1 Environments are the habitats most in need of protection.

Table 1: Threatened Environment Classification description for National Priority 1 Environments

CategoryCategory criteria Category name 
 1  <10% indigenous cover left   Acutely threatened
 2  10-20% indigenous cover left   Chronically threated

Where and how we collect the data

Monitoring area

This indicator covers the entire Waikato region, 2012 boundary using:

GIS_ALL.POL_2012_REGIONAL_AUTH_EW_L1 regional boundary (2012)

Data are reported within four spatial frameworks:

  1. Region (2012) - GIS_ALL.POL_2012_REGIONAL_AUTH_EW_L1
  2. District/city councils (2012) – GIS_ALL.POL_2012_TERR_AUTHORITY_EW_L1
  3. Bioclimatic zones (1994) – GIS_ALL.BIOCLIMATIC_ZONES
  4. Threatened environments – GIS_ALL.SNA_LENZ_TEC

Monitoring frequency

The indicator is monitored on a 5 yearly basis and/or when relevant data are updated. The next one is scheduled for 2022.

Monitoring history

This replaces an indicator published on the Waikato Regional Council’s website in 2014 because:

  • the 2014 Indicator used an older land protection layer which is no longer in use
  • the Land Cover Database v2 which was used in the previous indicator had some dataset errors and a corrected version was released in 2015.

Measurement technique

We use the LCDB 4.1 to find out the regional extent of indigenous cover on land. The LCDB (Land Cover Database) minimum mapping unit is 1 ha and the data are suitable for applications down to 1:25,000 scale.

We use the following databases to determine areas that are legally protected:

  • Core Record System (CRS) layers, provided by CoreLogic to identify areas owned or occupied by local authorities where their purpose is stated as a form of reserve in PURPOSE column.
  • DOC layer – GIS_ALL.DOC_CONSERVATION_AREA_WRC – Derived from data sourced from the Department of Conservation.
  • QEII layer – GIS_ALL.QEII_TRUST_COVENANT – Provided by QEII Trust.
  • NWRK layer – GIS_ALL.DOC_NGA_WHENUA_TRUST_COVENANT – Provided by the Department of Conservation.

GIS analysis is used to calculate the boundary administrated by different agencies.

The quantities of the data for each protected area's category are calculated through Excel and GIS software.

How the indicator is compiled

The statistics were compiled using Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) software. Relevant indigenous cover classes were selected from the land cover database. See Waikato Regional Council document #7890739 for the complete list of selected indigenous cover classes for the Land Cover Database spatial layers (LCDB4). See Waikato Regional Council document #2991195 for a description of the processes used to calculate the statistics in FME.

Legally protected areas in New Zealand for this indicator include:

  • Department of Conservation Reserves (DOC_SOURCE)
  • QEII Covenants (QEII_SOURCE)
  • Nga Whenua Rāhui Kawenata, excluding management agreements (NWRK_SOURCE)
  • Other - typically protected under the Reserves Act by local authorities or other state owned entities identified from the Core Record System using the PURPOSE attribute from GIS_ALL.CRS_PARCEL, and Owner or Occupier attributes from GIS_ALL.CRS_PROPERTY_WHOLE_REGION. Note, that an occupier is defined as the legal ratepayer which in the majority of cases is also the owner.

Guidelines and standards

Regional boundary

The total land area of the regional boundary has been estimated using data from both the Land Cover database as well as the GIS_ALL.POL_2012_REGIONAL_AUTH_EW_L1 layer.

For this indicator, the 2012 regional boundary was used a baseline for all time periods reported on. In future updates of this indicator, any change in the size or shape of the regional boundary will affect the total area of indigenous coverage, due to areas of indigenous cover being included or excluded from the new boundary. To account for this issue either all previous results need to be recalculated or the update should retain the 2012 boundary as a baseline rather than any new regional boundary layer.

The same holds true for the indicator results pertaining to territorial authorities in which the 2012 territorial boundaries (POL_2012_TERR_AUTHORITY_EW_L1) have been clipped to the 2012 regional land boundary. Retaining these boundary layers will enable consistent change analysis to be conducted. This is indicator is a regional analysis and as such the does not cover the Waitomo, Taupō and Rotorua territorial authorities in their entirety.

LCBD 4.1 classes

For the current extent of indigenous cover on land in the Waikato region, the following LCDB 4.1 classes are used. Indigenous cover is calculated by capturing all LCDB 4 names listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Indigenous land cover groups and land cover names (LCDB4)


Land cover groupIndigenous land cover name
1. Bare or lightly vegetated surfaces Sand or gravel
Gravel or rock
Permanent snow and ice
2. Grassland

Alpine grass / herbfield

Tall tussock grassland
Depleted tussock grassland

3. Scrub and shrubland Fernland
Manuka and/or kanuka
Matagouri or grey scrub
Broadleaved indigenous hardwoods
Sub alpine shrubland
4. Forest Indigenous forest

Quality control procedures 

This indicator was primarily created using Feature Manipulation Software (FME). However, a sample of queries were tested in GeoMedia to ensure that results from both are aligned.

For information on data quality (lineage, positional accuracy, attribute accuracy, logical consistency and completeness) see the updated metadata for the LCDB, available on the Terralink International Limited website.


  1. Indigenous land cover is based on LCDB Version 4.1 data. The LCDB gives a ‘snapshot’ of vegetation at the time when the data were collected and should not be considered as a definitive measure of present day vegetation cover.

  2. Manuka is typically a scrub vegetation class, while kanuka is typically a forest class, however these vegetation types are mapped as a single class in the LCDB series and cannot be separated for this indicator. They have been allocated to the “Scrub and shrubland” class. Therefore the amount of protected forest vegetation may be underestimated in this indicator while the extent of scrub may be over-estimated.

  3. District council reserves data is derived from data provided by CoreLogic as well as district councils and is based on the PURPOSE field in GIS_ALL.CRS_PARCEL layer. That field is not comprehensive or consistent and may not include all local purpose reserves.

  4. Some local purpose reserves may have a lesser requirement for protection of biodiversity where that is inconsistent with the purpose of the reserve type (e.g. road reserve, water supply) and have been treated as indeterminate protection status in the analysis of the extent of legally protected indigenous land cover.

  5. There are some areas of overlapping protection status. Where this occurred the parcel was allocated to a single entity using the best information available. Two DOC reserves in the region are also QEII covenants, these parcels were treated as DOC land, being the most recent legal status. Some minor areas of overlap are the result of digitising discrepancies between GIS layers sourced from different agencies.

  6. Some vegetation types are incorrectly identified in LCDB 4.1 which may result in errors in extent of indigenous land cover legally protected.

  7. Shelterbelts composed of indigenous vegetation do not contribute to the total area of indigenous vegetation in the analysis as shelterbelts exceeding 150m have been captured as line features in the LCDB2 spatial layer.

  8. The 2012 district council boundaries clipped to the regional land boundary were used for this indicator. Some district councils extend beyond the regional boundary, and statistics compiled at the district scale for the Waikato region may not reflect the pattern for those districts as a whole.

  9. Trend analysis has been conducted on the basis of change in reserve status over time, rather than change in the underlying vegetation cover. Data layers accessible to the Waikato Regional Council do not have date registered for Department of Conservation or local authority reserves. Gazette notice dates reference only the most recent gazette notice and so may not reflect the date of original registration. Therefore trend data is presented only for QEII covenants and Nga Whenua Rahui Kawenata for which reliable registration dates are available.

  10.  In April 2010, the Ministry for the Environment published a State of the Environment indicator for the extent of “Areas of native land cover under legal protection”. The data for the Waikato region is based on the region’s boundary prior to boundary adjustments in 2011. The MfE indicator data may also include areas that are non-indigenous in character or non-terrestrial. For these reasons the MfE data are unable to be used to present temporal trends in extent of protection of indigenous land cover.

Further indicator developments

Waikato Regional Council is in the process of creating a region-wide indigenous vegetation (Bioveg) spatial layer. When this spatial layer is completed it is expected to be a high quality layer which could be used in addition to the Land Cover database. However, the scope of the Land Cover database is broader than the Bioveg layer as it includes not only indigenous vegetation classes but also covers classes which possibly may contain indigenous vegetation such as coastal sand and rock. Further, the Bioveg is currently only a snapshot in time and cannot currently be used to present trend data.

Changes to the Land Cover database classification scheme are likely to influence the indicator results. In addition, it is expected that the accuracy of the Land Cover database will increase with new technology and this will influence the extent to which any change in indigenous cover can be accurately interpreted.


  1. The Land Cover Database (LCDB) uses satellite imagery to map land cover in New Zealand. This indicator draws upon version 4.1 (LCDB4.1), which was released in July 2015 and includes corrections to all LCDB version time steps 1996/97, 2001/02, 2008/09 and 2012/13.
  2. Les Molloy. Protected areas - Specially protected areas, in Te Ara - the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand.
  3. Conservation Act and a Report on stewardship land
  4. Ministry for the Environment & Department of Conservation 2007. Protecting our Places: Information about the statement of national priorities for protecting rare and threatened biodiversity on private land. Wellington, Ministry for the Environment & Department of Conservation.