New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2021) 45(1): 3427

The significance of sheep and beef farms to conservation of native vegetation in New Zealand

Research Article
Jennifer L. Pannell 1
Hannah L. Buckley 1
Bradley S. Case 1
David A. Norton 2*
  1. School of Science, Auckland University of Technology, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
  2. Te Kura Ngahere | School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8014, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Relying solely on public conservation lands for habitat provision will be inadequate for achieving national conservation goals. Production landscapes in New Zealand make up 60% of the land area and contain potential conservation habitat; however, the amount of native vegetation they contain is poorly known. While there have been previous assessments of native vegetation cover in New Zealand, no study has undertaken a national-scale assessment of multiple native vegetation cover types on different land uses. This absence limits the potential to manage production landscapes for conservation. Our study aimed to bridge this gap by using GIS and remote-sensing data to estimate the area of native vegetation, including forests, grasslands and wetlands, present on different land-use classes and in different environments. We found that while most of the country’s remaining native vegetation was found on public conservation land, it was not evenly distributed across land environments and was biased towards high-elevation vegetation types. Yet private land, in particular sheep and beef farms, contained a quarter of the remaining native vegetation in the country, and 17% of remaining native forest. While this vegetation was often highly fragmented, it contained forest types that were otherwise under-represented on public conservation land. We conclude that sheep and beef farms in New Zealand have the potential to add to nationwide conservation efforts. However, realising this potential will involve improving the connectivity, area and quality of native vegetation.