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Pod of Bottlenose dolphins, Fiordland National Park. Image: Lou Hunt.
Pod of bottlenose dolphins, Fiordland
National Park

View the full Conservation Act 1987 on the New Zealand Legislation website.

The Conservation Act was developed to promote the conservation of New Zealand’s natural and historic resources.

To achieve this, the Act established the Department of Conservation, bringing together under one department the conservation functions formerly managed by five different government agencies.

What are the key functions of the Act?

Under the Act the Department of Conservation has a number of functions. These include:

  • The management for conservation purposes of all land and natural and historic resources held under the Conservation Act;
  • The preservation of indigenous freshwater fisheries (so far as is practicable);
  • The protection of recreational freshwater fisheries and freshwater fish habitats;
  • Conservation advocacy;
  • Promotion of the benefits of international co-operation on conservation matters;
  • Promotion of the benefits of the conservation of natural and historic resources in New Zealand, the subantartic islands, the Ross Dependency and Antarctica;
  • The provision of educational and promotional conservation information;
  • Fostering recreation and allowing tourism on conservation land, providing the use is consistent with the conservation of the resource;
  • Provision of advice to the Minister.

What is a conservation area?

Under the Act a conservation area is defined as land or foreshore held for conservation purposes or land in respect of which an interest is held for conservation purposes (e.g. leases).

Categories of conservation areas

Specially Protected Areas (Part IV Sections 18-23)

  • Conservation Parks - managed for protection of their natural and historic resources and to facilitate public recreation and enjoyment.
  • Wilderness Areas - managed for preservation of indigenous natural resources. Buildings, machinery, livestock, vehicles, aircraft, roads and tracks are excluded from such areas except for management, scientific or safety purposes.
  • Ecological Areas - managed for protection of the particular values of each area.
  • Sanctuary Areas - managed to preserve indigenous plants and animals in their natural state and for scientific and other similar purposes.
  • Watercourse Areas - land already under some form of protection whether under the Conservation Act, Reserves Act or QEII National Trust Act which adjoins inland waters also under some form of protection. The land together with the adjoining waters also has outstanding natural or recreational characteristics and is managed to protect these characteristics.
  • Amenity Areas - managed for protection of their indigenous natural and historic resources; and to contribute and facilitate the public's appreciation of those resources and to foster recreational attributes of the areas.
  • Wildlife Management Areas - managed for the protection of the areas' wildlife, wildlife habitat and genetic material of indigenous plants and wildlife; and for the protection of indigenous natural and historic resources.

Marginal Strips (Part IVA Sections 24-24L)

These are areas reserved from the disposal of land by the Crown which areas adjoin the sea, lakes or rivers  and have specified minimum size or width. They are held for conservation purposes and particularly for maintenance of the adjacent waters, water quality, aquatic life and for protection of the natural values of the strip and its natural values. They are also held to enable public access to the waters and public recreational use of the strips and adjacent waters.

Stewardship Areas (Part V Section 25)

These are managed to protect the natural and historic values of the areas. Stewardship areas can be disposed of but disposal is subject to a public process and it must be clear that their retention and continued management would not materially enhance the conservation or recreational values of adjacent land.

Land deemed to be held for conservation purposes

Under the Act certain types of former State Forest land are re-categorised to reflect their conservation value. Other areas of State Forest land, not previously given a conservation category, are deemed to be held for conservation purposes. This land is able to be leased.

The following mechanisms allow the Minister to achieve protection of private or Maori land.

  • Conservation Covenants (Section 27)
  • Nga Whenua Rahui Kawenata (Section 27A)
  • Management Agreements (Section 29)

Land Held for Administrative Purposes

This includes land held by the department for offices and visitor centres in the community (e.g. urban areas).

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