A new environmental report by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ presents new data on New Zealand’s land cover, soil quality and land fragmentation.

The land cover data in the report, Our land 2021, provides the most up-to-date estimates of New Zealand’s land cover and associated land use and changes.

Overseas markets are a significant driver of land use, and with global populations projected to reach 10.9 billion by 2100, market-based pressures on land are set to increase. Most of our agriculture and forestry products are exported, and these activities currently cover about half our land area, the report says.

Our land 2021 explores the impact of New Zealand’s growing population, export-driven economic growth, and the demand for housing in the future.

While urban land cover continues to make up one percent of total land area in New Zealand, we can see that urban and residential expansion is outwards onto productive land, which creates tension between the use of land for housing and land for agriculture.

This results in a complex trade-off, as using land that is not highly productive for food growing results in lower yields unless more intensive land management approaches are used.  Intensive land management brings with it the risks of degrading the quality and health of the soil and the wider environment.

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson says the report shows how the health of our land impacts on the health of our rivers, lakes, oceans, air, indigenous biodiversity, climate – and our own wellbeing.

“Land is central to our identity as people of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is our tūrangawaewae, our place to stand.

“The choices we make for where we build, what we grow for ourselves, and what we export are creating tensions for the best use of available land. Climate change and a growing population are only going to make future choices more difficult.” she says.

Government Statistician Mark Sowden says the agency has developed new and updated indicators that provide invaluable information on changes to New Zealand’s land and soil.

“Nevertheless, there are still gaps. We have an incomplete picture of the impact on the environment and our wellbeing of what we do on the land.

“We need better and more targeted data to understand the impact of intensive land use, particularly on native ecosystems.”