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Our biodiversity

Our region before 1840

Kahikatea forest Before European settlement, the Waikato region was covered in native vegetation (except for open water and areas of bare lava or permanent snow and ice).

Although the vegetation was native, not all of it was original. Almost half of the region, mainly the lowlands and the volcanic plateau, had been burnt off and was covered in scrub.

Higher, wetter, or less accessible areas remained in mature kauri, beech or podocarp forest (podocarps include rimu, totara and kahikatea). Native dune vegetation (pingao and spinifex) was found on the coast, especially at harbour mouths and river deltas. There were vast freshwater wetlands near the Lower Waikato River and Hauraki Plains.

The region supported unique plants and animals, with many plants, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects and snails.

Land mammals were rare - only three species of bat. The exact number of land species present in 1840 is unknown, although we do know that some species were already extinct by then, including species of moa and the giant eagle.

The current state

The Waikato region is still home to many native plants and animals. We have:

  • more than 900 native plants
  • 124 native bird species
  • 19 reptiles (including geckos, skinks and tuatara)
  • two species of native bats
  • two native frogs.
  • Our streams and rivers are also home to many types of fish and invertebrates.

Some native species are unique (endemic) to the Waikato region:

  • Archey’s frog is only found in Whareorino Forest (south west of Te Kuiti) and in the Coromandel Range.
  • Te Aroha and Moehau stag beetles
  • Mercury Island tusked weta
  • Mahoenui giant weta.

We also have unique plant species:

  • Hebe pubescens on the Coromandel Peninsula
  • Hebe awaroa on the West Coast.
  • Many plant species found in our geothermal areas are common only in the Waikato. These include some ferns that are usually associated with tropical areas.

But now around only 26 per cent of our region (approximately 620,833 ha) remains in native vegetation, and at least 100 species of our native plants and animals that live there are threatened with extinction. This includes all our bats and frogs and 30 per cent of the birds.

Native forest covers 20 per cent of the region. Scrub, wetland, dune, geothermal, and tussock vegetation make up the remaining native vegetation. Most of today’s native vegetation occurs in the hill country. In the vast lowland area, only 18 per cent of pre–European vegetation is left.

Within our region, vegetation has not been cleared evenly. Some types of vegetation remain in similar proportions to their 1840 extent. For example, the extent of some high altitude vegetation types, such as beech forest, is largely unchanged.

But in other areas, little remains of the original vegetation, for example:

  • Mature kauri forests were heavily logged.
  • Extensive wetland areas have been drained for farming and only 25 percent of the original wetlands remain.
  • Large areas of sand dune were converted from native spinifex and pingao communities to pine plantations. Introduced plants, such as marram grass, have invaded many of the dunes.

Mahoenui giant weta

The rate of land clearance in the Waikato region has slowed. Now the greatest threat to our native species comes from introduced species such as possums, rats and stoats. These pests have become established in all of our mainland forests. 

What's being done?

Waikato Regional Council is helping to protect our natural areas and biodiversity

  • We work with district and city councils to protect areas of native vegetation through education, regulation and funding support.
  • Waikato Regional Council’s Natural Heritage Fund was established in 2005 to protect and manage, in perpetuity, special places of ecological significance. Key priorities include the preservation of access to waterways and the coast, as well as protection of biodiversity, heritage sites and landscapes of significance to the community.
  • We support care groups undertaking activities to enhance native biodiversity in the region.
  • Waikato Regional Council and Department of Conservation possum control operations target ‘at risk’ areas of native forest.The Department of Conservation also has active management programmes to protect threatened species in our region.
  • We track changes in the indigenous coverage of protected areas. This supports our knowledge base of the extent of the region's biodiversity and helps with policy making and resource consent decisions.
  • We support landowners in the region to covenant special areas on their property to enhance native biodiversity and to provide long term protection.
  • We aim to raise people’s awareness of the environment so that people understand that the daily actions in their lives and business can affect the environment, and learn what actions they can take to improve their own local environments.

You can help

  • Make sure you check with your local councils before carrying out any forestry or bush clearance activities.
  • Join an environmental group that purchases and manages natural areas, such as the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
  • Join or form a care group in your area, to look after and preserve the natural environment.  Many land owners also carry out private pest control, planting, fencing and restoration. Check outa href="">The Ripple Effect , to find out who's doing good stuff for the environment in your local area.
  • You can place a covenant protecting an area of native bush on your land.   About half of the region’s remaining native vegetation is legally protected, and many land owners have legally protected native forest, scrub or wetland areas.  There are different protected covenants that are managed by a number of agencies. The initial approach to apply for a protection covenant is to find out the biodiversity values on your land through Significant Natural Areas program in your local council, and to talk toa href="">QEII representatives in your area . You can get help through the following agencies:
    • QEII Trust helps private landowners in New Zealand protect significant natural and cultural features on their land with open space covenants. ( ).
    • Nga Whenua Rahui Fund provides funding for protection of indigenous ecosystems on Maori land (
    • District council covenants provide funding for protection of indigenous ecosystems on council land and also private land. Please check this with your local district or city council.
    • The Nature Heritage Fund (NHF) supports projects to protect indigenous ecosystems by purchase or covenant on Māori land. The fund, which receives an annual allocation of funds from the Government, is administered by an independent committee, reports to the Minister of Conservation and is serviced by the Department of Conservation. You can find out more at

Some more information