Native Vegetation on Sheep and Beef Farms Summary Report

A report from the University of Canterbury has revealed that 24 per cent of New Zealand’s native vegetation (approximately 2.8 million hectares) is estimated to be on sheep and beef farms. This is the largest amount of native vegetation present outside of public conservation land.

The report has also uncovered that 17 per cent of all New Zealand’s native forest is estimated to be on sheep and beef farms and is likely playing a vital, but often unheralded role in supporting biodiversity.

B+LNZ CEO Sam McIvor reflects that “This is a great acknowledgement  for our farmers and the work they’re doing as stewards of the land. I hear sheep and beef farmers talking every day about what they’re doing on farm to support biodiversity and it’s great we have been able to develop evidence to back their passionate voices”.

The report, commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ), was undertaken by Professor Norton from the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry, who, supported by Auckland University of Technology staff, conducted a desk-top assessment of the amount of native vegetation, focussing on native forest, occurring on sheep and beef farms in New Zealand. 

“The 2.8 million hectares of native vegetation on sheep and beef farms are critical for biodiversity conservation on the farm and for landscape-level biodiversity outcomes,” says Professor David Norton.

Among the report’s findings is that 13 per cent of the total area of New Zealand’s sheep and beef farms is estimated to be covered by native forest - around 1.4 million hectares. 

“This finding is particularly important in places where there is little native cover remaining, like those in lower altitudes, on more gentle slopes and in drier regions,” says Professor Norton.

Sam McIvor says that Professor Norton’s report is resounding evidence that sheep and beef farmers already contribute to biodiversity, but it also contributes to a bigger conversation about the type of support that farmers want to be recognised for the work they’re already doing on farm.

“The study provides a foundation for the sheep and beef sector to look deeply into the quality of the vegetation, how it’s changing over time, its biodiversity value, how it compliments changing farm systems, and even what role it plays in carbon sequestration,” says Mr McIvor.

Along with surveying the extent of native vegetation, the report also highlights that New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector is unique in terms of the amount of native forest on its land.

“There are opportunities to continue to enhance the great work of farmers to build on these areas of native vegetation, but those developing policy initiatives like the National Policy Statement for Biodiversity and the proposed Zero Carbon legislation need to tread carefully so that farmers continue to treat native vegetation on their farms as an asset” says Mr Mc McIvor.

The release of this report is one of the first steps for B+LNZ in implementing its environment strategy, which aims for clean freshwater around farms, for the sector to be carbon neutral by 2050, for sheep and beef farms to provide habitats that support thriving biodiversity, and to support healthy productive soils.

“With understanding and improving the environment performance of farming now underpinning everything that we do at Beef + Lamb New Zealand, this report helps highlight not only the role that sheep and beef farms play in contributing to New Zealand’s biodiversity, but also the opportunities ahead of us as a sector,” says Mr McIvor.