Essential Freshwater package and Canterbury rules – FAQs

Updated 27 November 2020

We are currently collating responses to the most frequently asked questions – from farmers in particular. Here we cover the concept of Te Mana o te Wai and its application to resource consents, some general questions, and questions on intensive winter grazing and the nitrogen cap for fertiliser application. More questions will be answered as the responses become available, and responses may be modified in the light of any new information or advice received.

If you have further questions, please send them to We may not be in a position to answer all questions immediately. However, we will come back to you with an indication of when an answer may become available or a redirection to where a suitable answer may be found.

Te Mana o te Wai

What is Te Mana o te Wai?
The concept of Te Mana o te Wai is central to the Essential Freshwater package.
It refers to the vital importance of water and the need to ensure that freshwater is managed in a way that prioritises (in this order):
  • the health and well-being of water
  • the health needs of people
  • the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being.
How is Te Mana o te Wai expressed in the Essential Freshwater package?
The new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) establishes a set of guiding principles and a hierarchy of obligations. It refers to the essential value of water, and the importance of sustaining the health and well-being of water before providing for human health needs, and then other uses.
The NPSFM strengthens and clarifies Te Mana o te Wai by requiring regional councils to:
  • set a long-term vision (inter-generational) for the water that is informed by aspirations of tangata whenua and communities for what the waterbodies should look like in future, an understanding of current pressures, and an understanding of the waterbodies' history
  • report on progress towards the long-term vision
  • investigate options for tangata whenua involvement such as joint management agreements, and publicly report on decisions around whether to use these options.
What is Environment Canterbury doing to implement Te Mana o te Wai, particularly with resource consent applicants?
We are working with our partner Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Papatipu Rūnanga to build our understanding of Te Mana o te Wai in Canterbury, and how this should be given effect to. As we build this understanding, we will update our guidance to help those applying for resource consents.
People making decisions on consents must now have regard to the relevant provisions of the NPSFM and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F). The decision-maker must weigh up several factors.
Considerable weight must be given to the principles of Te Mana o te Wai, and the requirement to put the health and well-being of freshwater first, then human health, and finally the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being.
To appropriately incorporate this new direction into the decisions we make on resource consents, we need people applying for consent, or with consents in process, to assess the relevant provisions of these documents, and particularly how their proposed activities give effect to Te Mana o te Wai and the hierarchy of obligations (see above).
We also need people to check whether they require consent under the NES-F, and to apply for those consents when they apply for any consents they need under the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan.
To help people with these requirements, we will be contacting those with consents in process to explain what we need and why (PDF File, 199.62KB) and we will also be working closely with consultant groups.
Further detailed guidance will be provided as we work through understanding how the national direction and Te Mana o te Wai should be implemented.


What activities are covered by the new rules in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F)?
The NES-F contains a new set of rules that cover these activities:
  • Feedlots
  • Stockholding areas
  • Agricultural intensification, including:
    • Conversions of plantation forestry to pastoral land use
    • Conversions to dairy farmland
    • New irrigation of dairy farmland
    • Using land for dairy support
  • Intensive winter grazing
  • Applying synthetic nitrogen fertiliser to pastoral land
  • Activities that affect natural wetlands, including vegetation clearance and earthworks, and taking, damming, diverting or discharging water (not just within an agricultural setting)
  • Reclamation of riverbeds
  • Fish passage affected by structures within a river, including rules around installing culverts, weirs and passive flap gates.
See also the definitions in the NES-F.
When do the rules in the NES-F apply?
Most of the rules in the NES-F have effect from 3 September 2020. This means they need to be complied with from this date. However, some of the rules for certain activities don’t come into effect until later. Dates for different activities:
3 September 2020 – all activities in the NES-F other than intensive winter grazing, applications of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and stockholding areas other than feedlots.
1 May 2021 – intensive winter grazing activities. However, if consent is required for existing intensive winter grazing, the application must be submitted by 31 October 2021.
1 July 2021 – the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and using land for stockholding areas other than feedlots. However, if an existing activity now needs consent, the application must be submitted by 31 December 2021.
Do the rules in the NES-F apply to all farms?
The NES-F rules relating to feedlots, stock-holding areas, intensive winter grazing and applications of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser only apply to farms on which:
  • 20ha or more is in arable use; or
  • 20ha or more is in pastoral use; or
  • 5ha or more is in horticultural use; or
  • 20ha or more is a combination of 2 or more of the land uses described above.

The NES-F rules regulating agricultural intensification apply to farms of all sizes.

Do the new rules need to be incorporated into Environment Canterbury plans before they apply?
No. In time we will align our plans with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) and the NES-F, but the NES-F rules apply from the dates mentioned above. So currently, any relevant activity will need to be assessed under the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan and the NES-F.

Intensive winter grazing

What is intensive winter grazing?
Intensive winter grazing is defined in the NES-F as “grazing livestock on an annual forage crop at any time in the period that begins on 1 May and ends with the close of 30 September of the same year”.
Which rules do I need to comply with?
In addition to the rules introduced by the NES-F, you will need to make sure you comply with any rules relating to farming land use consents or stock exclusion in the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan, which includes a definition of winter grazing that is different from the NES-F definition.
When do I have to comply with the new intensive winter grazing rules?
The NES-F regulations come into effect on 1 May 2021. From this date, any intensive winter grazing will need to meet the permitted activity conditions in the NES-F. If these conditions cannot be met, a resource consent will probably be required.
If existing intensive winter grazing has been happening on farm before 1 May 2021 and therefore needs a resource consent, the consent applicant has until 31 October 2021 to submit - provided the effects of the intensive winter grazing are the same or similar in character, scale and intensity to the way it was previously undertaken.
How much of my land can be used for intensive winter grazing?
If you are to intensively winter graze without a resource consent (from May 2021), the area you use must not exceed 50ha or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater. It must also meet other conditions set out below. If you cannot meet these conditions, you can still apply for a resource consent for intensive winter grazing.
What are the requirements for permitted activity (no consent) intensive winter grazing?
To be a permitted activity, your intensive winter grazing must comply with these conditions:
  • the area used must not exceed 50ha or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater; and
  • the slope of the paddock must not exceed 10 degrees; and
  • any paddock used for intensive winter grazing cannot result in pugging deeper than 20cm at any point, while pugging that is 5cm or deeper cannot cover more than 50% of the paddock; and
  • livestock must be kept at least 5m from the bed of any river, lake, wetland, or drain (regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time); and
  • land used for intensive winter grazing must be replanted as soon as practicable after livestock have grazed the land’s annual forage crop (but no later than 1 October of the same year); and
  • the total area used for intensive winter grazing must be no greater than the maximum area used for intensive winter grazing in any single season between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019.
Does the permitted activity requirement limiting a farm’s intensive winter grazing to the greater of 50ha or 10% apply at farm level or per title?
It applies to a farm. Farm is defined in the NES-F as “a landholding whose activities include agriculture”. Landholding means “1 or more parcels of land (whether or not they are contiguous) that are managed as a single operation”.
The new rules say I have to replant by a certain time after my wintering is finished. Does it have to be a certain crop?
Replanting after winter grazing has finished can significantly reduce the risk of soil erosion and nutrient leaching from the paddock, as this can be exacerbated when left fallow.
In Canterbury, replanting needs to happen as soon as practicable after grazing has finished or by 1 October of the same year. The crop will need to be sown by this date, rather than being fully established.
There is no specification in the rules about what type of crop needs to be replanted, but there is guidance from industry bodies such as DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb. This can depend on soil types, climate and what you could use the replanted crop for.
The aim is to capture nutrients in the second crop and protect the environment by reducing the risk of nutrient loss to water or erosion of soil – replanting should be adequate to address this.
What land uses do the pugging standards apply to?
The pugging standards only apply to intensive winter grazing.
Once the new rules apply, can I only intensively winter graze in the same paddocks each year?
No, there is nothing to stop you moving your wintering paddocks around the farm each season. You will need to make sure you still meet the relevant requirements for each season however - slope, total area, proximity to waterways. If you obtain a resource consent, the effects on the environment from the proposed locations will probably be assessed through the application process.
What about the option of having a Certified Freshwater Farm Plan rather than getting a new consent for intensive winter grazing?
In future, a Certified Freshwater Farm Plan will be an alternative under the NES-F rules to obtaining a consent or meeting the permitted activity conditions. However, the standards for the Freshwater Farm Plan and the certification process are still being developed. In the meantime, the rules must still be met.
How do I work out the mean slope of my paddock?
The guidance to how to measure slope of a paddock is still being worked on. However, note that the Low Slope Land Viewer RM (Stock Exclusion) Regulations 2020 map should not be used to determine paddock slope for winter grazing. This map was produced in relation to the stock exclusion regulations (and uses the LINZ Primary Parcel Area) which is not a suitable scale for determining slope of a paddock as required under the intensive winter grazing regulations.
What is meant by “annual forage crop”? Does annual ryegrass fall under the definition?
The NES-F defines annual forage crop as “a crop, other than pasture, that is grazed in the place where it is grown”.

Because ryegrass is a pasture, an annual ryegrass crop would not be considered an annual forage crop.

What will an intensive winter grazing consent look like for Canterbury farmers and how do I apply?
We are currently working to determine what an intensive winter grazing consent will look like, and how it could work with the current Farming Land Use Consent, Farm Environment Plan (FEP) and FEP Audit framework that Canterbury farmers are already implementing. We will provide further information on consents, consent applications and relevant processes as it becomes available.
I already have a Farming Land Use Consent and have had a Farm Environment Plan audit that covered winter grazing on my farm. Does this mean the new rules will not apply to me?
No. You still need to meet the new rules, whether by meeting the permitted activity conditions or obtaining a new intensive winter grazing consent. These are in addition to Canterbury rules or any consents you already have. This applies to farms managed under an irrigation scheme.

Cap for synthetic nitrogen fertiliser application

What is the synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap?
The new regulations have introduced a cap on the application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser at a rate of no more than 190 kg N/ha/year.
Does the cap apply to all farming types?
No, it only applies when the application relates to pastoral land use, which is defined as “the grazing of livestock”. This does not include grazing on the stubble of a crop that has been harvested after arable land use.
Does the nitrogen cap apply to the farm as a whole, or to each hectare?
It applies to both. The 190 kg N/ha/year application rate cap applies:
  • as an average over the entire property; and
  • to each hectare (excluding land used to grow annual forage crops).
When does the nitrogen cap come into force?
The synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap takes effect from 1 July 2021. If you can comply with the cap after that date, you are a permitted activity and do not need a resource consent. Where you are unable to comply with the cap, you will need to apply for a resource consent by 31 December 2021.
Does the nitrogen cap still apply if I already have a resource consent to farm?

Yes. If you have a resource consent for the use of land for farming, you will still need to comply with rules in the NES-F that restrict applications of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on to pastoral farms. If you cannot comply with the nitrogen cap (190 kg N/ha/yr), you will need to apply for an additional resource consent.

What if I can’t meet the nitrogen cap?

If at 1 July 2021, you cannot meet the 190 kg N/ha/yr cap (at both property and hectare level), you will need to apply for a resource consent.

If you intend to reduce synthetic nitrogen applications below the nitrogen cap but need more time, you can apply for a short duration consent to cover the transition period. The property would need to be operating at or below the nitrogen cap by 1 July 2023. Alternatively, consent can be sought for a longer duration (a maximum of 5 years), but in this case a more comprehensive application would be required.

Do I need to report to Environment Canterbury on this? How do I do so?
Dairy farmers are required to report on their annual use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser after the cap comes into effect on 31 July 2021. More detail on this reporting is being developed and will be available before the first reporting date.

Technical documents

More information

View Ministry for the Environment factsheets on policies and regulations in the Essential Freshwater package.

See our advice on the Essential Freshwater package, and our initial advice on Te Mana o Te Wai and resource consents.