Wetland management

Wetlands are crucial to our environment. They form a boundary between land and water, filter out sediment and nutrients, and support a greater concentration of wildlife than any other habitat in New Zealand.

The Government’s Essential Freshwater package aims to stop the ongoing loss of wetlands and protect their value by regulating the types of activities that are allowed in and around wetlands.

If you have a wetland on your property, you now have responsibilities to protect it under national and regional regulations.

What is a wetland?

‘Wetland’ is the collective term for the wet margins of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, estuaries, bogs, swamps and lagoons. Wetlands aren’t always 'wet'. They provide a habitat for wildlife and support an indigenous ecosystem of plants and animals that have adapted to living in wet conditions.

The Essential Freshwater regulations apply to natural inland wetlands as defined in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM). Artificially made wetlands, dams and drainage canals are not classed as wetlands under the new regulations.

If an area doesn’t meet the definition of a wetland under the NPS-FM, it may meet the wetland definition under the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP). If so, the LWRP rules apply to the wetland.

If you have any questions about the identification of a wetland on your land, you can contact your zone’s Land Management Advisor. You can also request a map of any indicative waterbody on your land by emailing the Customer Advisory team or calling 0800 324 636.

Wetland rules

Any activity that disturbs wetlands can only be carried out for certain reasons, including restoration, clearing debris, or scientific research. These activities may require resource consent.

There are limited exemptions to these activities, for example, the customary harvest of food or resources undertaken in accordance with tikanga Māori. Any other activity that may be exempt is subject to the Effects Management Hierarchy.

You must notify us at least 10 working days before any permitted activity takes place within, or up to 100m from a wetland. We will offer you some strategies and practical ways you can help maintain wetland ecological values.

Any activity in and around wetlands must comply with both the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) and the NES-F.

Ocean Ridge wetland Kaikoura Photo credit Heath Melville

Rules by activity

Rules for what you may do in or around a wetland depend not only on the type of wetland and intended activity, but also the purpose of the activity. Click on an activity below to read the particular rules.

Vegetation clearance

Restoration of natural inland wetlands

Vegetation clearance within a natural inland wetland, or within a 10m setback from a natural wetland is allowed for the purpose of restoration and doesn’t require consent if it does not occur over more than 500m2 or 10% of the area of the natural wetland, whichever is smaller.

The activity must also comply with the general conditions on works within wetlands in Regulation 55 of the NES-F. Otherwise, it is a restricted discretionary activity and requires consent.

Arable and horticultural land use

Vegetation clearance outside a natural inland wetland, or within a 10m setback from a natural inland wetland doesn’t require consent* if it’s for the purpose of arable land use or horticultural land use in an area that was used for either of those purposes at any time between 1 January 2010 and 2 September 2020.

The activity must also comply with the general conditions on works within wetlands in Regulation 55 of the NES-F. This excludes condition 55(2).

Other activities

Vegetation clearance within a natural inland wetland, or within a 10m setback from a natural inland wetland is a non-complying activity and requires consent if not otherwise stated above.

*LWRP regulations also need to be applied.

Earthworks or land disturbance

Restoration of natural inland wetlands

Earthworks or land disturbance within a natural inland wetland, or within a 10m setback from a natural inland wetland is allowed for the purpose of restoration and does not require consent* if it does not occur over more than 500m2 or 10% of the area of the natural inland wetland, whichever is smaller, unless it is for planting.

The activity must also comply with the general conditions on works within wetlands in Regulation 55 of the NES-F. Otherwise, it is a restricted discretionary activity and requires consent.

Arable and horticultural land use

Earthworks or land disturbance outside of a natural inland wetland, but within a 10 m setback from a natural wetland is a permitted activity and does not require consent* if it is for the purpose of arable land use or horticultural land use in an area that was used for either of those uses at any time between 1 January 2010 and 2 September 2020.

The activity must also comply with the general conditions on works within wetlands in Regulation 55 of the NES-F. Otherwise, it is a restricted discretionary activity and requires consent.

Drainage of wetlands

Earthworks outside of a natural inland wetland, but within a 100m setback from a natural wetland is a non-complying activity and requires consent if it results, or is likely to result, in the complete or partial drainage of all or part of a natural wetland and does not have another status under any regulations.

Earthworks within a natural inland wetland is a prohibited activity (no consent can be obtained) if it results, or is likely to result, in the complete or partial drainage of all or part of a natural wetland and does not have another status under any regulations.

Other activities

Earthworks within a natural inland wetland, or within a 10m setback from a natural wetland is a non-complying activity and requires consent if not otherwise stated above.

*LWRP regulations also need to be applied.

The taking, use, damming, diversion, or discharge of water

Restoration of natural inland wetlands

The taking, use, damming, diversion, or discharge of water within, or within a 100m setback from a natural inland wetland is allowed for the purpose of restoration and does not require consent* if it complies with the general conditions on works within wetlands in Regulation 55 of the NES-F. Otherwise, it is a restricted discretionary activity and requires consent.

Drainage of wetlands

The taking, use, damming, diversion, or discharge of water outside of a natural inland wetland, but within a 100m setback from a natural inland wetland is a non-complying activity and requires consent if it:

  • results, or is likely to result, in the complete or partial drainage of all or part of a natural inland wetland, and
  • does not have another status under any regulations.

The taking, use, damming, diversion, or discharge of water within a natural inland wetland is a prohibited activity, and no consent can be obtained if it:

  • results, or is likely to result, in the complete or partial drainage of all or part of a natural inland wetland, and
  • does not have another status under any regulations 

Other activities

The taking, use, damming, diversion, or discharge of water within a natural wetland, or within a 100m setback from a natural wetland is a non-complying activity and requires consent if not otherwise stated above.

*LWRP regulations also need to be applied.

Intensive winter grazing

To be a permitted activity, not requiring consent, intensive winter grazing needs to meet a variety of conditions, one of which is that livestock must be kept at least 5m away from the bed of any wetland, regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time.

If this condition is not met, the farm either requires a certified Freshwater Farm Plan that applies to intensive winter grazing (a certifier must certify that the adverse effects allowed for in the plan are no greater than the conditions) or it is classed as a restricted discretionary activity and requires consent.

Intensive winter grazing regulations are found in full in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F). Unlike under the stock exclusion regulations, the definition of livestock in national regulations does include sheep.

Stock exclusion

No stock can be grazed within a wetland. There are limited situations where sheep are permitted to graze in a wetland as sheep are excluded from the definition of stock in these regulations. Sheep grazing requires resource consent unless the grazing can take place without a conspicuous change in colour or clarity of water, or pugging or de-vegetation that exposes bare earth.

There are two documents that regulate stock access in waterways: the Resource Management (Stock Exclusion) Regulations 2020 which applies at a national level, and the Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) – as well as its associated plan changes that introduce subregional rules – which apply to Canterbury.

More information can be found on our keeping stock out of waterways page.

Constructing a wetland

Constructed wetlands effectively reduce contaminant loads from agriculture, construction and other industries by using natural processes to improve water quality. They can also provide a wide range of other benefits, such as habitat for native plants and animals, act as a buffer for flood flows and support local mahinga kai (food gathering areas).

A constructed wetland is typically created where a natural wetland would not exist. It is usually in the middle of a flat or sloping paddock or area of land near a watercourse. If you want to create a wetland on your property in or near wet gullies, around seeps, or in low-lying swampy land, you may need to check whether your proposed site is considered a former ‘natural wetland’.

When designing and planning a constructed wetland, you’ll need to consider whether your proposed activities require any resource consent.

There are four types of potential activities you may undertake in constructing a wetland that in some cases, are restricted and may require resource consent. They are: 

  • use of land
  • use of riverbed
  • take, use, divert or dam water
  • discharge

Resources

The Constructed Wetlands in Canterbury consenting guides (full version) have detailed information on the permitted activity rules for wetlands and are a great place to start. For more information, contact us and we can help.

Need help?

If you have any questions around the identification of a wetland on your land or which rules apply to your wetland, contact your zone's Land Management Advisor.

Find out about the consent process.

More information

Wetland definition

The NPS-FM refers to a "natural inland wetland" as meaning a wetland that is not:

  1. in the coastal marine area; or
  2. a deliberately constructed wetland, other than a wetland constructed to offset impacts on, or to restore, an existing or former natural inland wetland; or
  3. a wetland that has developed in or around a deliberately constructed water body, since the construction of the water body; or
  4. a geothermal wetland; or
  5. a wetland that:

(i) is within an area of pasture used for grazing; and

has vegetation cover comprising more than 50% exotic pasture species (as identified in the National List of Exotic Pasture Species using the Pasture Exclusion Assessment Methodology); unless

(iii) is a location of a habitat of a threatened species identified under clause 3.8 of the National Policy Statement, in which case the exclusion in (e) does not apply.

The above refers to the definition of wetland in the RMA, which reads:

  • Includes permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water, and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions.
  • The NPS-FM also separately defines a “natural inland wetland” as comprising a "natural wetland" that is not within the coastal marine area.

The Canterbury LWRP defines a wetland as including:

  • wetlands which are part of river, stream and lake beds
  • natural ponds, swamps, marshes, fens, bogs, seeps, brackish areas, mountain wetlands, and other naturally wet areas that support an indigenous ecosystem of plants and animals specifically adapted to living in wet conditions, and provide a habitat for wildlife; 
  • coastal wetlands above mean high water springs; 

but excludes: 

  • wet pasture or where water temporarily ponds after rainfall; 
  • artificial wetlands used for wastewater or stormwater treatment except where they are listed in Sections 6 to 15 of the LWRP; 
  • artificial farm dams, drainage canals and detention dams; and
  • reservoirs for firefighting, domestic or community water supply.

Effects Management Hierarchy

Activities that may result in losses of natural wetlands are avoided where at all possible, although there are limited exemptions.

Where those exemptions are met, activities are subject to the “Effects Management Hierarchy

The Effects Management Hierarchy, in relation to natural inland wetlands and rivers, means an approach to managing the adverse effects of an activity on the extent or values of a wetland or river (including cumulative effects and loss of potential value) that requires that:

  • adverse effects are avoided where practicable; and
  • where adverse effects cannot be avoided, they are minimised where practicable; and
  • where adverse effects cannot be minimised, they are remedied where practicable; and
  • where more than minor residual adverse effects cannot be avoided, minimised, or remedied, aquatic offsetting is provided where possible; and
  • if aquatic offsetting of more than minor residual adverse effects is not possible, aquatic compensation is provided; and
  • if aquatic compensation is not appropriate, the activity itself is avoided.

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Featured image: Ocean Ridge wetland, Kaikōura - Photo-credit, Heath Melville