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Use and harvest

Maori have used many native plants and animals for centuries. Now, most of New Zealand’s native birds, lizards, mammals and frogs are legally protected and cannot be killed or taken from the wild without a permit. Plants on the conservation estate are also protected. The harvest of native timber on most privately owned land is restricted to sustainable harvest levels by the Forest Amendment Act.

On this page: Traditional use, What is protected, Logging, Glossary

Traditional use

Historically, Maori made extensive use of what nature provided. For Maori, native plants and animals are taonga. They are treasured not just for their usefulness, but for the values they represent. Native plants and animals within our forests also have a special connection for Maori within the world of Tane. These principles are the basis of traditional Maori practices known as ‘tikanga’. Tikanga help Maori to understand who they are and how they are connected to the natural world, as well as ensuring the sustainable harvest of the resources on which Maori depended. Even today, tikanga govern the way in which many species are protected, managed and (if appropriate) used for a particular purpose.

All of these taonga of the natural world possess tapu, mana and mauri. These protect the integrity of the natural world and the species contained within it. Maori used various tohu (indicators) to assess the state of these resources. These also provide guidance, particularly for the timing of harvesting and the amounts to be taken.

Traditional Maori use for these taonga include:

  • Food.
  • Building materials.
  • Medicine.
  • Making weapons, tools and implements.
  • Clothing.
  • Decoration.
  • Ceremonial purposes.

Some taonga were used for more than one purpose:

  • Birds were harvested for food, as were huhu grubs, koura, tuna and other freshwater fish species. Many plants were also used for food, and even today, plants like puha, pikopiko and harore are still collected.
  • Wood from totara, matai and kauri trees was widely used for building and waka construction.
  • Medicines were made from plants such as kawakawa, kumerahou and karamu, but the range of plants used was, and remains, much more extensive than these.
  • Implements used in day-to-day living were made from a whole range of plant species, while pingao, kiekie and harakeke were used for weaving as well.
  • Bird feathers and some plants were used for decoration, and some plants had ceremonial purposes.
  • Whalebone was used for ornaments and weapons, as were stones such as pounamu and tuhua.

You can learn more on the relationship between Maori and our region’s native forests in the book, ‘Botany in the Waikato’ (Waikato Botanical Society, 2002). It’s available through the University of Waikato’s Centre for Biodiversity and Research publications pages.

Find out more about Maori and the land, our region’s native plants and animals, and life in a Waikato forest fragment.

What is protected

Since 1840, three quarters of the native vegetation in the Waikato region has been cleared for pasture, horticulture, pine plantation or urban areas. Just over half of what is left is legally protected, and 40 percent of these protected areas need fencing to keep stock out.

The selective harvest of non-timber trees on private land is not regulated. The extent of native plants harvested on private land for firewood, medicinal, craft or other uses is not known.

In New Zealand, most species of native birds, and all native lizards, mammals and frogs are legally protected. Whitebait and some native game birds (for example grey ducks and pukeko) can be taken in season. All plants on the conservation estate are legally protected.

Check out our page on threats to native plants and animals.


On most private land, the milling of native timber is restricted to sustainable harvest levels set by the Forest Amendment Act 1993. This Act ensures that if logging is carried out, the balance of the species in the forest is still protected and maintained.

Any applications to log under the Act are handled by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, who must consult with the Department of Conservation. Depending on how much timber people wish to harvest they may apply for:

  • Personal use applications - which allow up to 50 m3 of timber to be felled in any 10 year period.
  • Permits - which allow for the removal of up to 250 m3 of kauri or podocarp (500 m3 for beech) in any 10 year period, providing the amount removed does not exceed 10 percent of the current timber volume.
  • Plans – which allow greater timber harvests from larger forests provided the amount harvested does not exceed that replaced by natural forest growth.

The Forest Amendment Act only covers vegetation clearance for milling. Some district councils control clearing vegetation on private land for other uses.

In the Waikato region, resource consents may be required to clear vegetation in certain circumstances. Contact us to request site specific information.



Harakeke Flax
Harore Edible fungus (‘bush mushrooms’)
Koura Small freshwater crayfish
Mana Spiritual power, prestige, authority
Mauri Life force
Pikopiko Unfurled fern fronds (‘fiddlesticks’)
Pounamu Greenstone
Puha Wild spinach
Tane Father of the Forest
Taonga Something prized or treasured
Tapu Restricted, reserved, sacred
Tikanga Traditional Maori practices, ways of doing things
Tohu Sign or indicator
Tuhua Obsidian (black, glossy volcanic rock)
Tuna Maori name for eel
Waka Maori canoe