The conservation of New Zealand's natural and historic heritage by the Department of Conservation, and other organisations, helps to maintain and increase products valued by New Zealanders such as native plants, animals, ecosystems and habitats, and historic places and structures.
Conservation actions also provide cultural benefits such as opportunities for active outdoor recreation, and for the appreciation of landscapes and the historic heritage.
Public conservation land and other natural areas also contribute other often overlooked products such as clean water supplies, and benefits such as the regulation of the effects of flooding, erosion and climate change.
Collectively, the environmental products and benefits are referred to as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are underlain by ecological processes such as soil formation, nutrient cycling and pollination, and evolution.
Environmental economics is the study of the production, distribution and consumption of ecosystem services, including their value.
In recent years governments have increasingly viewed ecosystem services as capital assets; that is, assets that sustain and enhance our lives, and which are difficult or impossible to substitute using modern technology. As a result, there has been considerable effort in valuing ecosystem services (using financial and other measures) and developing market-based instruments to promote the sustainable and efficient use of ecosystem services.