Land Cover

Nelson’s land cover profile is characterised by a predominance of forest cover (both indigenous and exotic) and a mix of other land covers (e.g., grassland/other herbaceous vegetation, scrub/shrubland, and urban/bare/lightly-vegetated surfaces.  A small portion, one percent, of the region’s land cover is influenced by the ultramafic, mineral soils of the Dun Mountain Mineral Belt resulting in naturally bare and lightly vegetated surfaces.  Between 1996 and 2018, exotic grassland and exotic scrub/shrubland have decreased in area whereas urban area, exotic forest, and indigenous scrub/shrubland have increased in area.  This relates to a change in land use from pastoral and horticultural land to urban land as a result of a growing population and the need for more housing (19% increase), greater investment in forestry, and an increased awareness, and interest in regeneration of natural ecosystems for biodiversity purposes.

Nelson’s land cover profile is characterised by:

  • A predominance of forest cover (about two thirds of land area), of which over half is indigenous forest.
  • Grassland/other herbaceous vegetation cover, which is predominantly comprised of exotic grassland, and scrub/shrubland occupy similar proportions of the regional land area (13-14%).
  • Scrub/shrubland cover is predominantly comprised of indigenous scrub/shrubland, although the area of exotic scrub/shrubland is not insignificant (4% of regional area).
  • Urban area comprises relatively substantial proportion of the regional land area overall (6%).


The key changes in land cover between 1996 and 2018 in the Nelson region are:

  • Exotic grassland and exotic scrub/shrubland have decreased in area.
  • Urban area, exotic forest, and indigenous scrub/shrubland increased in area.


The likely drivers and potential implications of the changes are:

  • The increase in urban area is likely to have been driven by population growth and increased demand for housing. The expansion of urban areas onto surrounding rural land will reduce the land area available for primary production and, in some areas, could result in the loss of highly productive and versatile land from productive uses (e.g., commercial vegetable production).
  • The increase in exotic forest area may have been driven by increased confidence in the forestry industry. The afforestation of hillslopes at risk of erosion (e.g., steep or with fragile soils, or both) under grassland cover can be beneficial in terms of improving slope stability and reducing the incidence of soil erosion.
  • The increase in the area of indigenous scrub/shrubland could have beneficial implications for the conservation of indigenous biodiversity. This change may also have been driven by the recognition that plantation forestry with relatively short rotation periods, has a potentially detrimental impact on freshwater ecology, and land stability.

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