Development of the initial proposal for a National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry

This page outlines the initial work on a proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry. The work was led by the Ministry for the Environment.

Purpose of the proposed NES

The Government first proposed a National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry, as regulations under the Resource Management Act 1991, in 2010.

The intent of the proposed standard was to improve national consistency in local authority plan rules relating to plantation forestry and provide certainty for those involved in managing plantation forests. 

The Ministry for the Environment consulted on the proposal in 2010, and on a revised proposal in 2011. Feedback from submissions indicated that further development of the proposal was needed. 

The original NES proposal (2010)

The original NES proposal:

  • covered  the activity status and conditions that might apply to eight plantation forestry activities (afforestation, replanting, mechanical land preparation, harvesting, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, quarrying and river crossings)
  • did not cover some associated forestry activities (eg, agrichemical use, milling, and processing of timber)
  • allowed local authorities to retain control over how local natural and physical resources are managed in some circumstances
  • proposed an erosion susceptibility classification system for determining the activity status for some plantation forestry activities.

The proposed NES was to require all local authorities to give effect to and enforce its requirements.

During September 2010, six consultation workshops were held to inform people about the proposed NES. The period for submissions closed on 18 October 2010. 117 submissions were received.

Read more about the proposed NES and the process of developing it:

The revised NES proposal (2011)

Following the public consultation on the proposed NES the Ministry established five working groups, including four subgroups and a main working group. The subgroups provided feedback to the main working group on some of the more technical issues raised by submitters, while the main working group focused on more generic, high-level issues. The main working group recommended changes to the original NES proposal.

The revised NES proposal was released in May 2011 and comments were sought from existing submitters. The Ministry received 62 comments.

Read more about the revised proposed NES:

Figure 1 depicts a flow chart showing the process of developing a national environmental standard.

1. Define

  • Define the problem
  • Indentify the policy context
  • Identify opportunities
  • Decide whether a NES is the most appropriate tool (key decision point)

2. Design

  • Convene stakeholder advisory groups
  • Design the policy
  • Prepare preliminary cost-benefit analysis
  • Prepare discussion document
  • Cabinet approval to consult (key decision point)

3. Consult

  • Public notification
  • Public workshops / hui

4. Redesign

  • Analyse submissions
  • Revisit and redesign policy
  • Prepare final cost benefit analysis
  • Cabinet approval to draft regulations (key decision point)

5. Deliver

  • Prepare drafting instructions
  • Finalise draft regulations
  • Cabinet approval of final regulation (key decision point)
  • Governor-General approval of NES (key decision point)

6. Implement

  • User's guides
  • Information
  • Workshops

Erosion susceptibility classification

A key component of the original NES proposal was developing an erosion susceptibility classification, used to identify land where forestry activities would be permitted or require resource consent.

The project was undertaken by the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry and underwent a rigorous validation process by land management experts, regional council staff and an independent expert peer review panel.

The School of Forestry developed both three and four tier classification systems.  These were evaluated and it was decided the four tier system best suited the policy framework so this framework has been included in the revised NES proposal.

The classification uses colour coding (green, yellow, orange and red) to group land into low, moderate, high and very high erosion susceptibility classes. These classes have been used to inform the activity status for various forestry activities.

View the erosion susceptibility classification maps by area:

Alternatively the GIS map is available for download through

For more information on the process for developing the erosion susceptibility classification:

Assessing the Status Quo – Review of Authority Rules (ROAR)

Many submitters raised concerns about how the proposed NES would affect particular districts or regions. In response, the Ministry undertook a survey of local authorities' resource management plans to determine what rules currently exist for plantation forestry activities. This survey compares the stringency of the policy in the proposed NES to existing rules in regional, unitary and district council resource management plans. All regional and unitary authorities have been surveyed, but only 23 district councils were looked at as these councils contain roughly two-thirds of New Zealand's plantation forest area.

The assessment involved comparing conditions for all plantation forestry activities in the proposed NES one by one against existing rules (and terms and conditions) in each plan. If a condition in a plan was more or less stringent, it was accordingly assigned a positive or negative value. The scores were tallied in spreadsheets to give a total stringency score for each council. Only rules in rural zone were considered. Reasons for difference between authorities (eg, land classes, receiving environments) were not considered. Once confirmed, these scores will show where the proposed NES sits in terms of the status quo.

Establishing the status quo allowed the Ministry to:

  • determine how the conditions of the proposed NES compare to existing plans (see whether they are more or less stringent than the status quo)
  • find gaps in proposed policy
  • compare revisions of the policy
  • estimate the likely uptake of the 'ability to be more stringent' exceptions
  • inform the final cost-benefit analysis process
  • have a snapshot of plan rules so the effectiveness of the policy can be monitored.