Land Cover

Waikato’s land cover profile is primarily made up of exotic grassland and forest (the area of forest is predominantly made up of indigenous forest).  Between 1996 and 2018, exotic forest and scrub/shrubland have decreased in area, whereas exotic grassland, urban area, and cropland have increased in area.

Waikato’s land cover profile is characterised by:

  • A predominance of grassland/other herbaceous vegetation cover (more than half of land area), of which most is exotic grassland.
  • A substantial area of forest cover (more than one third of land area), of which most is indigenous forest, but with a substantial area of exotic forest also.
  • Scrub/shrubland is predominantly indigenous.
  • Urban/bare/lightly-vegetated surfaces and cropping/horticulture comprise relatively small proportions of the regional land area overall.

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

  • Exotic forest and scrub/shrubland (exotic and indigenous) have decreased in area.
  • Exotic grassland, urban area, and cropping/horticulture have increased in area.

The likely drivers and potential implications of the changes are:

  • The decrease in exotic forest area (and the increase in exotic grassland) is likely to be due mainly to the large areas of pine to pasture land use conversions that occurred in south-eastern Waikato between 2004 and 2008.  The exotic forest cover was converted to exotic grassland cover for the purpose of establishing dairy farms.  Forest to pasture conversions, particularly on Land Use Capability Class (LUC) 6-7 land, can result in increased soil structural degradation (including reduced infiltration capacity), soil erosion, and sedimentation of waterways, potentially leading to increased flood risk downstream (Waikato Regional Council, 2014).  On the naturally low-nutrient and free-draining pumice soils prevalent in south-eastern Waikato, large nutrient additions (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus) are likely to be needed to establish and maintain pasture growth.  These additions may result in increased nutrient losses to waterways.
  • The increase in urban area is likely to have been driven by population growth and increased demand for housing in the region.  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 versatile land from productive uses (e.g. commercial vegetable production).
  • The increase in the area of cropland may have been driven either by growth in cropping industries (e.g. commercial vegetable production) or use of cropping (e.g. maize) within broader farm management systems, or both - most of the change in area was in short-rotation cropland rather than orchards, vineyards or other perennial crops.  Soil cultivation, more commonly associated with short-rotation cropping, can result in increased losses of soil carbon, sediment and nutrients, and soil structural degradation over time.
  • The decrease in the area of indigenous scrub/shrubland could have implications for the conservation of indigenous biodiversity in the region.

Reference: Waikato Regional Council, 2014. Waipā catchment plan. Waikato Regional Council Technical report 2014/33.

Some of the things of relevance to land cover that Waikato Regional Council has put in place, or has in progress, include:

  • The Waikato Regional Policy Statement ( includes objectives, policies, and implementation methods relating to:
    • the maintenance and protection of indigenous biodiversity (including indigenous vegetation)
    • the identification and protection of the values of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use and development
    • the development of the built environment and associated land use (planned and co-ordinated subdivision, use and development)
    • an integrated approach to resource management in which, for example, Waikato Regional Council will “work with territorial authorities to identify and manage the adverse effects of large-scale land use change or intensification”.

  • The Local Indigenous Biodiversity Strategies (LIBS) project seeks to make a transformational shift in how we view and manage indigenous biodiversity.  LIBS will provide a regional-scale ecological restoration framework that connects the numerous ecological projects underway and stitches them together.  More information on LIBS and its pilot project can be found at: .

  • Waikato Regional Council identifies significant natural areas (SNAs) in the region containing threatened species or rare types of habitat and puts measures in place to help protect them

  • Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1
    ( seeks to address the complex problem of water quality facing the Waipā and Waikato rivers.  The proposed plan change will introduce controls on land use change (areas greater than 4.1 ha) in the Waipā and Waikato catchments, with certain land use changes requiring a resource consent.  Controls on some types of land use change (e.g. a change from woody vegetation cover to farming activities) may also reflect controls on land cover (e.g. a change from exotic forest to exotic grassland).

  • Waikato Regional Council has divided the region into ‘zones’ and developed zone management plans for each area.  These plans ( are the primary tools for the implementation of all river and catchment management activities in the region.  A plan for the Waipā River catchment (the Waipā Catchment Plan – has also been prepared with the purpose of guiding the implementation of integrated catchment management activities in the catchment.

  • Waikato Regional Council monitors and reports on several indicators relating to indigenous vegetation cover; the extent of indigenous vegetation on land (, indigenous forest fragmentation (, and indigenous coverage of protected areas on land (

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