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National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry - An update on what you need to know

Alex Wilson, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2018.

Many of you will now know that if you who own, or are planning to plant, a commercial forest larger than one hectare it is now regulated by the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry. These standards are relevant if you undertake any of the following forestry activities – afforestation, pruning, thinning, earthworks, river crossings, forestry quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation and replanting,

The NES-PF, as it is generally known, came into force at the beginning of May this year. The regulations have been developed to help protect the environment while improving the productivity of the forestry sector. Plantation forestry activities are permitted where there is unlikely to be any significant effect on the environment − subject to certain conditions.

Three assessment methods

Underpinning the NES-PF are three risk assessment methods which are used to identify sites which pose a high risk of adverse environmental effects. They also clarify where consent is needed. These assessment methods are Erosion susceptibility classification, the Freshwater fish spawning indicator and the Wilding tree risk calculator. They can all be found on the website Ministry for Primary Industries website at

How in-depth your knowledge of the NES-PF needs to be depends on whether you are using a forestry contractor or if you are undertaking the forestry operations yourself. However, the more you know, the better. If you intend to use a contractor you need to make sure the contractors understand and are complying with the NES-PF. You should also make sure that your forest services agreement with them states that they must comply with the NES-PF and local authority planning rules.

If you are not using a contractor and doing the work yourself you need to make sure you −

  • Understand the conditions for each forestry activity
  • Understand how the NES-PF risk assessment methods apply to your land
  • Notify your council for certain activities
  • Prepare plans for harvesting, earthworks or quarrying
  • Pay permitted activity monitoring fees if they are needed.

Some questions answered

You may have further questions about the NES-PF and this section answers some of the more frequently asked questions. If you have any further questions there are some suggested contact details in the final section.

How do I make sure that I am correctly interpreting or applying the NES-PF?

If you are not sure that you are interpreting the NES-PF correctly you can contact your local council and discuss any details with them. The Ministry for Primary Industries website also has guidance which might help. There is also a set of real life scenarios available on the website. This is where you can answer questions on the regulations and check your understanding against the answers supplied. This may help you identify gaps in your knowledge which you can read more about in the guidance.

How do I know if the local council has rules which are more stringent than the NES-PF?

The NES-PF allows council plan rules to be stricter in a few specified circumstances. These generally relate to certain types of landscape or protected vegetation.

You will need to check with your council if their rules are stricter.

There are also certain effects and activities related to forestry which are not regulated under the NES-PF such as air quality. These will continue to be managed under the relevant council plan and in some cases under other legislation, for example, effects on cultural and historic heritage. If you are unsure if any regional or district plan rules apply to the forestry activity you are undertaking, contact the relevant council for advice before undertaking any activity.

Are you clear what information you need to provide to the council?

You need to provide notice of earthworks and river crossings to your regional council. For afforestation, forest quarrying and harvesting you need to provide notice to both your regional council and territorial authority.

You also need to prepare management plans for earthworks, forest quarrying and harvesting. The regional council may request a copy of these management plans. You are also required to advise the regional council if you make any material amendments to your management plans. Again, they may then request a copy of the amended plan.

I had consents in place before the NES-PF began – are they still valid?

Any consents processed before 3 August 2017 are still valid and prevail over the NES-PF until the consent expires or until the authorised work has been undertaken. Any consents which were notified after 3 August 2017 may need to be reconsidered under NES-PF requirements. More information on this can be found in the consent and compliance guide on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

How do I know if the council will charge a monitoring fee?

Under the NES-PF, councils can charge to recover the costs of monitoring permitted activities which require a management plan such as harvesting, earthworks and forest quarrying and river crossings when they do a site inspection. When the local council sets a charge, they need to comply with the requirements of the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act. These include −

  • A public consultation process
  • Having clear links between any charges and the activities being charged for
  • Establishing charges covering reasonable costs.

You will need to contact the local council to find out about their monitoring charges.

Questions if you are employing a contractor

What discussions should I have with my contractor?

To clearly understand your contractor’s knowledge of the NES-PF you can ask them to outline to you what they need to do. Ensure that they have notified the council for the necessary forestry activities and have prepared management plans. You also need to ensure that they understand the conditions for each forestry activity regulated by the NES-PF and that they know how to apply the three risk assessment methods to your land.

Check their knowledge about the local rules which may still be relevant. Finally, ensure that the forest service agreement which you have with your contractor has appropriate provisions regarding environmental performance which includes complying with the NES-PF.

Do I need to amend an existing agreement this to include conditions relating to the NES-PF?

If the existing contract is not operationally compliant with the NES-PF then you need to discuss this with your contractor. If you are unsure, contact your local council.

Who is liable if the NES-PF rules are broken?

The short answer is that you may well be liable. As the land owner you can be liable for the acts and omissions of employees, contractors or sub-contractors even if you are not the person who did not comply with the regulations. Under the Resource Management Act you can also be subject to enforcement action by your local authority for non-compliance.

More information

If you have any further questions there are a number of places you can go for more information, depending on the nature of your query.

  • If you identify a problem on site that you think breaches the regulations talk to your contractor or the local council.
  • If you have any queries around whether local rules apply, management plans or compliance monitoring then get in contact with the local council.
  • If you have a technical query about the risk assessment tools or the NES-PF in general contact Te Uru Rakau/ Forestry New Zealand on 0800 00 83 33 or email with NES-PF as the subject.

Te Uru Rakau/ Forestry New Zealand posted out a brochure to all farm foresters on the NES-PF in June. If you did not receive a brochure and would like to receive a copy email

Alex Wilson is the Manager Land Management Implementation for Te Uru Rakau/Forestry New Zealand.


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