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Intensive Winter Grazing

Making and following a plan for how you manage intensive winter grazing (IWG) is essential to reducing nutrient and sediment run-off and improving soil productivity.

Winter 2024 update

In April 2024 the government announced they would be repealing the Intensive Winter Grazing (IWG) rules from 2025. It is intended these will be managed in the future through Freshwater Farm Plans (FW-FP).

What does this mean for this winter?

  • The IWG rules are still in place.
  • Any farmer winter grazing between May and September (inclusive), should have an IWG plan. If the plan shows you cannot meet the permitted activity standards (eg slope) it should show how this is managed (eg increased buffer distances).
  • The Council is still obliged to investigate any complains about winter grazing practices.

What is intensive winter grazing?

Under the National Environmental Standards Freshwater (NES-F), intensive winter grazing is grazing livestock (including sheep) on an annual forage crop at any time in the period that begins on 1 May and ends on 30 September of the same year.

An annual forage crop is a crop, other than pasture, that is grazed in the place where it is grown. Annual ryegrass is a pasture, so isn’t considered an annual forage crop.

What are the regulations?

In 2020, the Government introduced the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F), which set requirements for carrying out certain activities that pose risks to freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. One of those activities is intensive winter grazing.

On 1 November 2022, new rules around winter grazing came into force. Under the NES-F, farms that don’t meet the Permitted Activity rules will require a certified Freshwater Farm Plan  or to have applied for resource consent by 1 May 2023.

However, Freshwater Farm Plans won’t be rolled out in Hawkes Bay until mid- to late-2025, so if you can’t meet the Permitted Activity rules, you will need resource consent.

Councils and industry have worked together to develop further guidance: Intensive Winter Grazing Rules FAQ (PDF, 2.78MB)

Key actions

From 2023 onwards, if you're planning to intensively winter-graze stock you need to:

  • have an intensive winter grazing management plan, which identifies the environmental risks and on-farm mitigations
  • determine whether you are a Permitted Activity or will need consent
  • continue with paddock selection and planting, but make a plan on how to meet the rules – adjust your practices to meet the Permitted Activity rules, or plan to apply for consent by 1 May 2023.

Whether you're doing intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity or applying for resource consent, one thing won't change – you'll need a written plan that clearly identifies the environmental risks associated with the activity, and how you plan to manage and mitigate each of these risks.

Your intensive winter grazing plan will be the key reference you follow over the winter months.

Government and industry organisations have developed several IWG management templates and guidance documents you can use to make your plan:

A Permitted Activity rule outlines certain conditions that need to be met to operate without consent. If your activity meets all of those conditions, you don’t need council authorisation, and are not required to notify us of the activity.

Use these questions to determine if you can operate under the Permitted Activity rules:

  • Was the land on farm used for winter grazing between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019?

  • Is the total area used for IWG no more than the maximum area used between the above dates?

  • Does the total area of intensive winter grazing on your farm meet the following limits:
    a) For a farm 500ha or less, the maximum area of IWG is 50ha?
    b) For a farm larger than 500ha, is the maximum area of IWG 10% of the property size?
  • Is the slope of land under winter crop 10 degrees or less measured over any 20 m distance?

  • Are all critical source areas within or nearby the winter grazing area protected, ungrazed, uncultivated and unharvested over the winter grazing months?

  • Are livestock kept at least five metres away from the bed of any river, lake, wetland or drain, regardless of if there is water present at the time?

  • Will you take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise adverse effects from pugging and ensure vegetation is established as ground cover over the whole area of that land as soon as practicable after grazing?

If you answered No to ANY of these questions, a resource consent will be required for intensive winter grazing on your farm.

If you answered YES to ALL of these questions, then you can practice intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity.

If you plan to conduct intensive winter grazing in 2023 and can’t meet the Permitted Activity rules, you will need to lodge a resource consent application by 1 May 2023. You are not required to have been granted resource consent, only to have lodged an application by this date.

While you won't be granted resource consent immediately, you can still continue with planning and planting for next season and grazing in 2023, as long as you're following your management plan and are consistent with what you’ve applied for.

A consent application deposit will cost $1150. The final cost could be more or less, depending on how complicated the consent is to process. You will be billed extra or refunded depending on the final cost.

Download an application form

Download our intensive winter grazing resource consent application form. Using this form will make the application process as simple, efficient and easy as possible.

An intensive winter grazing management plan is a key feature of the application and a requirement of the consent going forward.

You can apply for any consent duration, but what is granted will depend on your individual situation. Generally, it will be 5 years.

With any new regulation, our first priority is education. For the next year, we will be focusing on supporting farmers to understand the new rules and how they can meet them. There are lots of resources online and staff on the ground to help.

As intensive winter grazing can be a high risk to the environment, we expect that effects are managed even while you are working towards getting your consent. Existing rules in Hawkes Bay restrict stock access to waterways and discharge to water, so we will continue to follow up any incidents relating to these. Each case will be assessed on its merits and compliance action may be taken where necessary.

The compliance team will be interested to see that you have considered good management practices in developing your plan and then that you have reliably implemented your plan. This applies to both the farms that can meet the permitted activity and those that now require a resource consent.

The compliance team undertake a flight during winter to monitor from the air as a scan to see any potential issues, if any are spotted these are followed up on ground with the landowners.

Where Council receives information from the public this is investigated to determine whether a rule breach occurs.

Consents are monitored in line with Council’s priority system, which may mean a proportion of consents are monitored in any one season. The compliance team undertake farm visits preferably with the farmer.

The actual and reasonable costs associated with consent monitoring are recovered from consent holders as provided for in the annual plan.


Here are some ways to protect soil structure and reduce the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways on your farm:

  • What's your plan for bad weather? Having practical bad weather mitigations must be part of planning your winter feed management. For example, what will you do to stop soil damage and increased run-off entering waterways during storm events?
  • Paddock selection for winter is crucial – it's best to choose paddocks away from waterways and wet areas prone to pugging to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient run-off.
  • When planting the crop, leave grass buffer strips around critical source areas, such as gullies and swales, where the run-off collects and flows out of the paddock.
  • Have a good look at the landscape and ensure there are larger buffers around the waterways. This can really help reduce sediment and nutrient loss into waterways.
  • Graze strategically by protecting any critical source areas. Leave them in the pasture or graze last, when it is dry, if they need to be grazed at all.
  • It's also a good idea to back-fence stock off the land that has already been grazed, to even further reduce run-off. Strategic grazing and careful management of critical source areas can reduce losses of sediment and phosphorous (P) by 80-90%.
  • In wet conditions, practice on/off grazing to minimise pugging damage to the soil and distribute nutrients from dung and urine more widely.
  • Plant a cool tolerant follow-up crop, such as oats or rye, as soon as possible after grazing. This can soak up nutrients from the soil, rather than them being leached if the paddock is left fallow.

We know these changes can be confusing, and we’re here to help. If you have any questions regarding intensive winter grazing rules and practices, email us at with your specific queries, and we’ll get back to you with advice.

Your industry partners (DairyNZBeef + Lamb New ZealandDeer NZ and others) will have guidance and templates that can help you with your intensive winter grazing and other farm management.


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The Ministry has indicated that Hawkes Bay will be last in the queue to be able to use Freshwater Farm Plans; the estimated timeframe is mid- to late-2025. However, the rule change from 1 November 2022 still applies, so you will need a resource consent if you cannot operate as a Permitted Activity.

We are aware that other regional councils are using a "deemed permit" approach for the 2023 season. However, this approach will not be used in Hawkes Bay as the Ministry for the Environment has indicated that Hawkes Bay will be among the last regions to have Freshwater Fam Plans rolled out, so this option may be several years away, and deemed permits will not give farmers certainty they need.


An annual forage crop is a crop, other than pasture, that is grazed in the place where it is grown. Annual ryegrass is a pasture, so isn’t considered an annual forage crop. Cereals like oats may or may not be depending on management.

  • Land area used for intensive winter grazing must meet both of the following conditions: The area used for intensive winter grazing must not exceed 50ha or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater. The total area used for intensive winter grazing must be no greater than the maximum area used for intensive winter grazing in any single season between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 (reference period). If you can’t meet either of these requirements, you will require resource consent.
  • Slope: 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.
  • Pugging: You are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the effects of pugging on freshwater.
  • Distance from waterways: Livestock must be kept at least 5m from the bed of any river, lake, wetland, or drain, regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time. An exception to this rule applies to subsurface drains, where the 5m distance requirement does not apply. Find out more about stock exclusion rules.
  • Resowing: You are required to establish vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing.
  • Critical source areas: Anyone undertaking intensive winter grazing activities must protect critical source areas. All critical source areas:
    – must be left ungrazed;
    – must have vegetation as ground cover; and
    – must not be used to grow forage crops.



Good winter practice

  • supports good animal health and welfare
  • minimises contaminant loss to the environment
  • complies with Hawke's Bay Regional Council regulations
  • protects valuable topsoil
  • complements the overall dairy system and the work of the team on farm.

Guide: Good Environmental Practice for Winter Crops


More information and wintering resources can found below.

Concerned about winter grazing practices?

If you are worried about winter grazing practices you can call:

  • 0800 FARMING supported by industry and councils and provides an opportunity for the community to give feedback.
  • MPI’s animal welfare hotline 0800 00 83 33 

Cows eating winter crops

Intensive Winter Grazing Video

This video provides information about the new intensive winter grazing rules.


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