Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

More effective and lower cost biodiversity management: the Threatened Environment Classification

Protection of biodiversity is a statutory requirement under the Resource Management Act. It is also the focus of The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, which reflects New Zealand's commitment to meet the goals of the global Convention on Biological Diversity.

Hawke’s Bay furniture manufacturer David Trubridge Design has been focusing on LCA

Hawke’s Bay furniture manufacturer David Trubridge Design has been focusing on LCA

Protection of biodiversity is a statutory requirement under the Resource Management Act1. It is also the focus of The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2, which reflects New Zealand's commitment to meet the goals of the global Convention on Biological Diversity.

The economic value of even small losses or gains in biodiversity is substantial. A 1994 study suggested New Zealand's biodiversity provides, directly and indirectly, services exceeding the annual Gross Domestic Product3.

Until recently, national-scale information on biodiversity loss and protection relied wholly on subjective assessment. The absence of an objective context reflecting the overall status of biodiversity made it difficult to quantify and compare the value of biodiversity protection when assessing different land use options. It also presented a barrier to effectively monitoring changes in biodiversity and demonstrating progress towards restoration and protection goals.

Landcare Research developed the Threatened Environment Classification system to provide a context for biodiversity assessment. The classification provides land managers with a simple and practical GIS-based tool to better recognise places where ecosystems have been significantly reduced and are poorly protected, so this knowledge can be readily incorporated into environmental and economic planning. The Classification enables local authority or national agency users4 to visualise the state of local, regional or national biodiversity more quickly, easily and cost-effectively. For example, a recent single application of the Classification produced results that correlated well with an earlier regional synthesis of ecological information that cost about $100,0005. Efficiency gains from using the Classification to supplement conventional approaches to biodiversity assessment have been estimated by one regional council user to be ~$70,000 per annum6. Similar application across local government nationally could make savings of over $1 million per anum7, representing a five-fold return on investment.


An example: Threatened Environment Classification Canterbury Region

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The Threatened Environment Classification provides broad (i.e. national) scale information on how much native (indigenous) vegetation remains within land environments; its legal protection status; and how past vegetation loss and legal protection are distributed across New Zealand's landscape. It provides a tool for:

  • Identifying priority areas to target resources to achieve the greatest amount of biodiversity protection in the most cost effective way
  • Guiding regulations relating to vegetation clearance or modification
  • ‘State of the Environment' reporting at national, regional or district levels
  • Establishing a framework for monitoring biodiversity protection activities (5), and a baseline against which to measure progress

Key benefits to users are the Classification's provision of relevant, objective biodiversity information that is consistent and comparable across New Zealand land environments. Assessments are repeatable and reproducible, because the national datasets that inform them are accessible to all users of the Classification tool. Combined with local knowledge and information, and field inspection and survey, the Threatened Environment Classification leads to better informed and more cost-effective biodiversity decision-making. Through a recent Regional Council Biodiversity Forum initiative (a cross-regional council leadership group) the tool will be incorporated into a framework for all regional and district councils to report their biodiversity protection against the national priorities. (The first two categories of the Classification were incorporated as National Priority 1 in the Government's Statement of National Priorities protecting rare and threatened native biodiversity on private land (April 2007)).

The Threatened Environment Classification is based on the Land Environments of New Zealand (LENZ) classification, and was developed and transferred to users between 2004 and 2007 with approximately $200,000 funding. The work began with contracts from MfE and DOC Policy to support their development of a National Policy Statement (Walker et al. 2004, 2008). Although the Policy Statement was subsequently abandoned, the Classification (Walker et al. 2006) was published using capability funding from MoRST. In 2006, in response to growing demand from potential users, an Envirolink Tools grant enabled us, in collaboration with a user group of top regional council ecologists, to transfer the Classification nationally (see, Walker et al. 2007).

The experience of councils to date, and their determination to adopt the system nationally, indicates that for this research the CRI's target of 9% return on investment is easily achieved.


  2. Under Section 6 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) councils must recognise and provide for the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna.   
  3. Department of Conservation 2000. The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.   
  4. Biodiversity is the basis on which ‘free' services provided by healthy ecosystems - such as clean air and water, the productive capacity of New Zealand's agricultural and horticultural industries, and aesthetic values of the natural environment - are built. This study estimated the annual value of direct and indirect uses of native biodiversity on land in 1994 at $46 billion, and the value of services provided by marine ecosystems at $184 billion; a total of 2.73 times the 1994 Gross Domestic Product. The comparable value of biodiversity in today's terms (GDP March 2009 = 134.2 billion) would be $366 billion.   
  5. Current users and uses of the Threatened Environments Classification include:        
    • Regional councils: visual communication of biodiversity protection issues and priorities; consent applications; submissions and evidence; ‘first cut' prioritisation of significant sites; prioritising resource allocation for legal protection
    • The national Biodiversity Condition Fund and Biodiversity Advice Fund: assessment of applications; stocktakes and reporting
    • DOC: applications in their Natural Heritage Management System; management and review of pastoral leases
    • QEII National Trust: as a framework to report progress in covenanting
    • A growing number of private ecological consultants and consulting organizations: preparation of environmental impact assessments; hearing and court evidence under the RMA
  6. Tim Park, Greater Wellington Regional Council (pers. comm.)   
  7. Ibid. Based on an estimated improved efficiency of staff utilisation of 6% in administering an annual budget for regional biodiversity management of ~$1.1m.
  8. Assuming similar expenditure on biodiversity to that of Greater Wellington Regional Council by each of New Zealand's 12 regional councils (plus 5 unitary authorities).


Walker S, Price R, Rutledge D 2004. New Zealand´s remaining indigenous cover: recent changes and biodiversity protection needs. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0405/038 prepared for Department of Conservation.

Walker S, Price R, Rutledge D, Stephens RTT, Lee WG 2006. Recent loss of indigenous cover in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 30: 169-177.

Walker S, Cieraad E, Grove P, Lloyd K, Myers S, Park T, Porteous T 2007. Guide for users of the threatened environment classification. Ver. 1.1. Landcare Research New Zealand Ltd. 35 p.

Walker S, Price R, Rutledge D 2008. New Zealand's remaining indigenous cover: recent changes and biodiversity protection needs. Science for Conservation 284. 82 p.