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.

Around 30% of conservation areas are held in stewardship – over 2.7 million hectares or 9% of New Zealand’s total land area. Many of these areas are home to threatened species and high-priority ecosystems.

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.

Find out more about the categories of conservation land managed by DOC.

View a map of stewardship land areas across New Zealand.

Reclassification process

There are over 3,000 parcels of stewardship land of varying sizes across New Zealand. 

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, and 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.

Given the scale and complexity of this task, most stewardship land has not yet been reclassified.

In May 2021, the Government announced measures to streamline the reclassification process. These include legislative reform and the establishment of national panels to provide technical assessments and make recommendations to the Minister of Conservation.

Further information can be found in the Cabinet paper: Improving the process for reclassification of stewardship land.

Improving stewardship land reclassification

In November 2021, DOC released a discussion document on proposed law changes to make the process for reclassifying and disposing of stewardship land more efficient and effective.

DOC is seeking public feedback on the six proposals outlined in the discussion document. Submissions close Friday 18 March 2022.

View the discussion document and submit your feedback

Reclassified stewardship land

Since DOC was established over 100,000 hectares 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)
  • new conservation parks.

During the same period over 40,000 hectares 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 the creation of Ka Whata Tu O Rakihouia Conservation Park (2009) and Aotea Conservation Park on Great Barrier Island (2015).

As well as additions to:

2013 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.

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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