2.e Annual harvest of non-wood forest products


This indicator reports on the sustainability of the harvest of non-wood forest products. The wellbeing of indigenous and other communities dependent on non-wood forest products may be closely allied to the forest’s ability to maintain its productive capacity over time.

Current state

New Zealand’s forest estate supports a number of smaller industries that are unrelated to timber production. These range from beekeeping and the collection of sphagnum moss, through to game hunting and possum trapping. One of the growth areas involves the use of indigenous plant extracts in skincare and medicinal products. This activity was highlighted in the 2008 report and continues to attract commercial interest. It draws on both traditional Māori knowledge of, and research on, New Zealand’s plant species. Opportunities for incorporating secondary crops (such as ginseng and edible mushrooms) into forest management systems are being investigated.

Plant extracts for skincare products and food ingredients

New Zealand’s geographic isolation has meant that around 80 percent of all indigenous plant species are endemic, that is, they are not native to anywhere else in the world. This distinctive flora is only starting to be researched and provides opportunities to commercialise a range of new plant extracts for food ingredients and skincare products. New Zealand’s flora produce unique flavours that can be used in the development of novel ingredients for foods and beverages with significant export potential.

A number of innovative businesses have been established to develop these opportunities. They draw on the increasing international demand for natural products and remedies, sourced from sustainably grown products. The companies generally have a strong export focus and their markets include Asia, the Pacific Rim, North America and Europe.

The research being undertaken by public and private research agencies is focusing on both the commercialisation of new products and ways to improve the sustainable management of the forest resource. Plant & Food Research (a Crown Research Institute) is working with Māori partners to develop new foods and ingredients based on indigenous flora and fauna, particularly traditional food plants and seafood, as well as new technologies and techniques to manage the production of native plants.

Honey production and related products

Honey production is one of the long-standing uses of the forest estate. Apiarists take advantage of the nectar and pollen sources available in the bush, particularly the early season nectar flow, which is critical for building up hive strength and populations. A number of New Zealand’s monofloral honeys are derived from the forest estate. These include mānuka, rātā, rewarewa and tāwari. Apiarists locate their hives along the bush line or within forested areas. The national figures on the number of apiarists (and honey production) do not distinguish between those who rely predominantly on pasture or those focused on forest lands.

Nationally there were 4279 registered beekeepers in the June 2012/13 season (ranging from individuals with a single hive through to companies). Total honey production amounted to 17 825 tonnes. Production figures are weather dependent, and have varied between 9450 and 17 825 tonnes between 2008 and 2013. The average production over this six-year period was 12 526 tonnes. Production and beekeeper numbers have been increasing over the past decade. This has been driven in large part by the export market, in particular, the demand for mānuka honey. Export volumes were in a range of 2400 to 3300 tonnes between 2002 and 2005 and reached 8000 tonnes in the June 2012/13 season.

In addition to honey, apiarists produce beeswax, honey powder, honeydew, propolis (an antibiotic gum or resin) and bulk bees (principally for export).

Possum fur and skins

Possum fibre is gaining increased attention because of its high quality. Commercial harvest of possums (for fur and pelts) is currently in the order of 1.3 to 1.5 million per annum. The harvest has grown as the per kilogram price of possum fibre (plucked) has more than doubled since the beginning of the last decade and is in the order of $100 to $110 per kilogram. The use of plucked possum fur as a component in blended yarn is now well established in the New Zealand yarn industry with the total value of this industry estimated to be in the order of $50 to $70 million per annum.

An emerging use for possums is as a high-quality pet food (mainly for the export market). Research has shown that possum meat is high in unsaturated fatty acids, omega 3 and 6.

Commercial and recreational game hunting

The game animals hunted in New Zealand include red deer, fallow deer, chamois, Himalayan tahr, wild pigs and wild goats. None of these species is native to the country.

Deer are the major game species hunted in New Zealand by recreational and commercial interests. New Zealand’s feral deer population is estimated at 250 000 nationally. The population is spread across the conservation estate, commercial forests and upland pasture. Recreational hunters take approximately 50 000 head a year.

New Zealand has developed a strong international reputation for game hunting, and a number of commercial operators now provide guided hunting tours. The Department of Conservation and the major forestry companies operate concession systems for commercial hunting operations and they issue hunting permits for private individuals. A number of game estates have also been established, mainly to cater for overseas trophy hunters. These estates normally include substantial areas of bush and forest lands.

Sphagnum moss collection

A regionally important non-wood forest product is sphagnum moss, principally the variety Sphagnum cristatum. The moss is collected primarily from swamp areas in the forests and bush lands of the West Coast of the South Island. Harvested areas normally return to a stable condition after three to five years.

The harvest is mainly exported to Japan and Southeast Asia. The annual value of exports during the 1990s ranged from $13 million to $18 million, and has since fallen back to $4.0 to 4.5 million in 2011–2013.

New Zealand exporters target the premium orchid market, which requires long strands from mature sphagnum plants. The Department of Conservation now manages the majority of the sphagnum moss collection sites and monitors the concessions for their environmental impact.

New opportunities for non-wood forest products

Research trials on the potential for incorporating secondary crops into the plantation estate have been under way for some years. The emphasis has been on edible mycorrhizal mushrooms and crops such as ginseng. The intention is to incorporate these crops into the normal plantation management regimes for exotic species. The crops under investigation are high-value, low-volume commodities, which could significantly increase the viability of plantation forestry. The advantage of growing these crops in New Zealand is that forest owners can supply the traditional off-season in the northern hemisphere. A number of commercial trials and small-scale production blocks have been established.


Non-wood forest products (NWFP) are a small, but increasing, component of the forestry scene in New Zealand. The past 20 years have seen the range of products grow from game meat, honey and traditional extracts to a broader base, incorporating secondary crops and plant derivatives for skin care, health products and food ingredients. This growth has been based on research and trials by both private investors and government agencies.

The two principal activities within the NWFP sector have been beekeeping and hunting (including trapping). In 2013, 647 enterprises were involved in beekeeping, hunting and trapping. Collectively these enterprises had an employee count of 1320 workers.  The majority of these enterprises were small-scale operations (that is, self-employed workers or small companies with fewer than five employees).

The number of business enterprises involved in beekeeping has grown strongly in recent years from 352 in 2000 to 502 in 2013. These enterprises represent operators with a commercial number of hives. A proportion of these beekeepers will rely strongly on forest and bush lands for nectar and pollen, while others will utilise these areas for part of the season and focus on pastoral land.

Enterprise numbers for hunters and trappers have been in the range of 140 to 170 over the past decade, up from 120 in 2000. These enterprises are engaged in the hunting of game meat (wild deer, goats and pigs), the management of pests, and the trapping of possums for fur and pelts. None of these animal species is native to New Zealand, and most are considered a threat to New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna.

Trend Status

Data Quality L / M

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