St James Conservation Area
Image: DOC


DOC manages stewardship land under the Conservation Act 1987 to protect its natural and historic values.

Stewardship land was allocated to DOC when it was formed in 1987. ‘Stewardship’ is a conservation category which provides protection based on the natural and historic values of the land.

Categories of conservation land.

All stewardship land held by DOC is held because of the conservation values present on the land. It does not have to be reclassified for its conservation values to be managed and protected.

However, reclassifying stewardship land would ensure there are additional layers of protection for the land that needs it the most.

Around 30% of conservation areas are held in stewardship – over 2.5 million hectares or 9% of New Zealand’s total land area. Many of these areas are home to threatened species and high-priority ecosystems.

Reclassification process

There are over 3,000 parcels of stewardship land of varying sizes across New Zealand. Given the scale and complexity of this task most stewardship land has not yet been reclassified.

The process of reclassifying stewardship land usually involves surveying the land, scientific analysis of the species and ecosystems present, working in partnership with Treaty partners, consultation with the public (which may include submissions and public hearings). All the cultural, historic, economic, landscape and recreational values of the land must be considered before a decision can be reached.

In May 2021, the Government announced measures to streamline the reclassification process, through:

Report on stewardship land

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, released a report into the management and administration of stewardship land in 2013. The report identified that much land held in stewardship was of high conservation value.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report on stewardship land

In 2015 Dr Wright released an update assessing the response to her recommendations.

Reclassified stewardship land

Since DOC was established over 100,000 ha of stewardship land has been reclassified. This has occurred through processes such as:

  • transfer through Treaty settlement
  • additions to existing national parks or conservation parks and the creation of new national parks (eg Kahurangi National Park and Rakiura National Park both included stewardship land), or
  • new conservation parks.

During the same period over 40,000 ha of stewardship land has also come under DOC management through processes such as tenure review and Nature Heritage Fund purchases.

Examples of reclassifications of stewardship land include: 

St Arnaud Range overlooking Lake Rotoiti - this land east of the ridge is stewardship land

St Arnaud Range overlooking Lake Rotoiti - this land west of the ridge is part of Nelson Lakes National Park

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