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The New Zealand Land Cover Database

The New Zealand Land Cover Database (LCDB) is digital map of the land surface of the country. It is created by grouping together similar classes which can be identified in satellite images. Being digital, it can be used to make a number of different maps. As a map, it can be combined with other geographic information to reveal new information on patterns and trends of land use and land cover. The Land Cover Database version 2 contains snapshots of land cover at 1996-97 and 2001-02 incorporated into the data layer.

It provides the basis for better resource management decisions, more effective use of natural resources and improved environmental management.

The Land Cover Database begins with a satellite image

The Land Cover Database begins with a satellite image (top). Polygons define the edges of similar land cover types (middle). Polygons are assigned LCDB values and stored in a spatial database for mapping (bottom).

Where you can get it

The Land Cover Database is available from the following:

Examples of LCDB use at MfE

National state of the environment reporting

Based on statistics derived from LCDB 2, New Zealand's land cover is:

  • 50 per cent native forest, native vegetation and other native land cover
  • 39 per cent pasture (high-producing and low-producing grassland land-cover classes)
  • 9 per cent exotic forest and exotic shrubland
  • 1.6 per cent horticulture (horticultural, viticultural and cropping land-cover classes)
  • 0.8 per cent artificial surfaces such as urban and built up areas, landfills and transport infrastructure.

For more on this see the land cover environmental reporting page.

Identifying native land cover

In 2002, more than 13.3 million hectares of New Zealand’s land was covered by native land cover, as estimated by the Land Cover Database 2. This equates to 49.6 per cent of New Zealand’s total land area of 26.9 million hectares.

The area of native vegetation (excluding other native land cover) equates to 43.7 per cent (11.7 million hectares) of New Zealand’s total land area.

For more on this see the native land cover environmental reporting page.

Assigning national priorities for biodiversity on private land

National Priority One for protecting rare and threatened native biodiversity on private land calls for the protection of indigenous vegetation associated with land environments that have less than 20 per cent remaining in indigenous cover. The analysis relies on combining LENZ maps with satellite imagery from LCDB. In order to assess changes in this national priority vegetation we are reliant on updates of LCDB over time.

For more on this see the Protecting our Places brochure.

What people are doing with LCDB

Some more examples of the uses of the Land Cover Database include:

  • calculating the amount of carbon locked up in vegetation
  • identifying vegetation in areas that are vulnerable to erosion or fire
  • monitoring changes in land use, for example, between farming and forestry, and to show the rate and degree of urbanisation
  • identifying the habitats of certain pest species for biosecurity protection
  • identifying the condition of our biodiversity, areas at risk from development, and opportunities for protection and enhancement.

More information

More information on the background and uses for the database and a table of the land cover classes that have been mapped is provided below:

LCDB documents (produced in 2004):

Technical documents:


What’s new?

July 2009: LCDB has been re-issued with a Creative Commons Attribution licence. The data is available for electronic download from

For further information contact

Table 1: Land cover class areas

Land cover database 2 class



 High Producing Exotic Grassland 8,885,793 33.1%
 Indigenous Forest 6,456,940 24.1%
 Tall Tussock Grassland 2,394,695 8.9%
 Low Producing Grassland 1,652,286 6.2%
 Manuka and or Kanuka 1,186,103 4.4%
 Pine Forest-Closed Canopy 977,401 3.6%
 Alpine Gravel and Rock 698,145 2.6%
 Broadleaved Indigenous Hardwoods 539,555 2.0%
 Pine Forest-Open Canopy 482,766 1.8%
 Sub Alpine Shrubland 385,284 1.4%
 Lake and Pond 357,526 1.3%
 Short-rotation Cropland 333,719 1.2%
 Depleted Tussock Grassland 250,466 0.9%
 Forest Harvested 234,713 0.9%
 Alpine Grass/Herbfield 224,379 0.8%
 Gorse and Broom 203,083 0.8%
 River and Lakeshore Gravel and Rock 179,736 0.7%
 Built-up Area 163,438 0.6%
 Other Exotic Forest 132,338 0.5%
 Permanent Snow and Ice 110,972 0.4%
 Estuarine Open Water 92,499 0.3%
 Herbaceous Freshwater Vegetation 88,674 0.3%
 Afforestation (imaged, post LCDB 1) 85,076 0.3%
 Deciduous Hardwoods 84,192 0.3%
 River 81,936 0.3%
 Grey Scrub 72,402 0.3%
 Mixed Exotic Shrubland 63,238 0.2%
 Orchard and Other Perennial Crops 58,325 0.2%
 Fernland 51,710 0.2%
 Coastal Sand and Gravel 51,249 0.2%
 Afforestation (not imaged) 49,502 0.2%
 Urban Parkland/Open Space 40,164 0.1%
 Matagouri 29,535 0.1%
 Mangrove 26,033 0.1%
 Vineyard 25,400 0.1%
 Herbaceous Saline Vegetation 19,216 0.1%
 Landslide 16,992 0.1%
 Major Shelterbelts 12,766 0.0%
 Surface Mine 9,773 0.0%
 Transport Infrastructure 6,519 0.0%
 Flaxland 6,450 0.0%
 Dump 568 0.0%




Last updated: 1 July 2009