Intensive winter grazing: implementation guidance on Essential Freshwater policies and regulations

Guidance for councils, farmers and farm advisors on intensive winter grazing. 

What farmers need to know and do: intensive winter grazing

What's happening

From 1 May 2023 changes apply to intensive grazing rules for:

  • changes to resowing annual forage crop paddocks
  • pugging
  • critical source areas
  • using land with a slope of more than 10 degrees.

Why it's needed

If done poorly or too extensively it can have negative impacts on animals and the environment.

What you may need to do

Check the following resources on the Ministry for Primary Industries website to find out if you need to apply for a resource consent. 

The intensive winter grazing module is designed to assist farmers with planning and includes a step-by-step template to fill out. 

For more on environmental matters that affect farming communities see the Rural hub

Policies and regulations: intensive winter grazing

The following policies and regulations have provisions which apply to intensive winter grazing.

About the regulations

Regulations to better control the impacts of intensive winter grazing were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-F) as part of the Essential Freshwater reforms.

Regulations came into effect on 1 November 2022.

See the regulations [NZ Legislation website]

The regulations seek to improve intensive winter grazing practices by providing three pathways for farmers 

Pathway 1

Intensive winter grazing is permitted if a farmer complies with default conditions set out in the NES-F, or

Pathway 2 (currently not available)

Intensive winter grazing is permitted if a farmer obtains a certified freshwater farm plan that achieves an equivalent (or better) outcome. The farm plan must demonstrate that any adverse effects in relation to the IWG are no greater than those allowed for by the default conditions. (Freshwater farm plans will start to be rolled out in some parts of the country from 2023.)

Pathway 3

If Pathways 1 or 2 can not be met, a farmer needs to obtain a resource consent for intensive winter grazing activities.

Key changes to the regulations

In 2021, and in response to feedback about implementation issues, the Government deferred the commencement date of regulations and publicly consulted on changes to make them more practical to comply with the regulations – while still managing the effects of intensive winter grazing.

Having considered feedback, the Government amended intensive winter grazing regulations in the NES-F to address the implementation issues raised by other parties.


Slope is now defined as the maximum slope (i.e. the elevation difference across any 20 metre distance) for any area being used for intensive winter grazing. This replaces the definition of slope as ‘mean slope across a paddock’.

Land with a maximum slope of less than 10 degrees (as defined above) may be used for intensive winter grazing activities, subject to satisfying other conditions. Intensive winter grazing on land with a slope of more than 10 degrees will need either a resource consent or certified freshwater farm plan.


Default conditions around pugging have been replaced with a stand-alone duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the effects of pugging on freshwater.

Sub-surface drains

The definition of drains has been amended to exclude subsurface drains in relation to intensive winter grazing. This means requirement to keep stock at least 5m away from waterways does not apply to subsurface drains.


Default conditions around resowing have been replaced with a stand-alone duty to establish vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing.

Critical source areas

A new default condition has been added around critical source areas. Anyone undertaking intensive winter grazing activities must protect critical source areas – these must be left ungrazed, have vegetation as ground cover, and they must not be cultivated in annual forage crop.

Factsheets: intensive winter grazing

Guidance and resources: intensive winter grazing


Intensive winter grazing module

In November 2022, the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries released the updated Intensive Winter Grazing Module to reflect amendments to the NES-F regulations and incorporate feedback received on the previous version.

The module is designed to assist farmers with IWG planning and includes a step-by-step template to fill out during this process.

Guidance on critical source area, pugging and ground cover 

Published in March 2023, the guidance is a series of documents to support people who manage and monitor intensive winter grazing activities.

It includes the following information: 

Animal management: winter grazing and mud 

Upcoming freshwater guidance

Contacts: intensive winter grazing

Applying regulations in your region

Contact your regional council to find out how these regulations apply in your region

Animal welfare

Contact the Ministry for Primary Industries if you have an animal welfare enquiry or would like to report an animal welfare concern

Regulation information

Contact the Ministry team for any questions about the regulations.