National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F)

The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F) regulate activities that pose risks to the health of freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. Each of New Zealand’s regional councils are responsible for the consenting and consent monitoring associated with these regulations. This section of the website includes resources to help you determine consenting requirements for your land use activities around freshwater in the Horizons region.

Horizons Regional Council is currently working through the requirements and implications for monitoring and enforcement. We encourage all landowners to become familiar with what is required. A good starting point for this are the Ministry for the Environment’s policies and regulations factsheets and your relevant industry groups.

We've prepared some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in response to questions posed to us by landowners, or some that we anticipate may be asked in relation to the Essential Freshwater package. Please note that these FAQs predominately refer to the amended National Environmental Standards.

Update - June 2024: As part of Resource Management Act changes, central government has said it intends to amend stock exclusion regulations in relation to sloped land and repeal intensive winter grazing regulations. Please contact Horizons on free phone 0508 800 800, especially if you are intending to apply for a resouce consent which may be impacted by these intended changes.

View the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater

View our FAQs

Freshwater farm plans

During central government’s development of the Essential Freshwater package, the agricultural sector suggested freshwater farm plans as a way to achieve regulatory compliance and desired environmental outcomes.
Freshwater farm plans will encourage actions to reduce a farm’s impact on freshwater, while also providing farmers the flexibility to find the right solutions for their farm and catchment. They will also bring together many existing requirements and ultimately allow for better recognition of on-farm efforts to improve freshwater.

Find out more about freshwater farm plans

Intensive Winter Grazing

Regulations to better control the effects of intensive winter grazing were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020, as part of the Essential Freshwater reforms.  

The updated regulations came into effect on 1 November 2022. Those planning intensive winter grazing operations for the 2023 season onwards, will need to be familiar with the new intensive winter grazing regulations and requirements. These rules apply to you if your property includes five hectares or more of horticulture, 20 hectares or more of pasture or arable crops, or 20 hectares or more of a combination of any of these.

Find out more information about the intensive winter grazing rules

Nitrogen cap reporting

The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F) introduced new rules for synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use. There are two main parts to the regulation that farmers need to consider: the nitrogen cap and nitrogen reporting requirements.

The nitrogen cap regulation states that no more than 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser per hectare may be applied per year to all farms over 20 hectares. It is also now a requirement for all dairy farms land to report on their synthetic nitrogen fertiliser usage from 1 July until 30 June the following year. The following link will take you to more information about both these regulations. 

Find out more information about the nitrogen cap and reporting

Stock Exclusion Regulations

Dairy and beef cattle, pigs and deer will need to be excluded from wetlands, lakes and rivers with a bed greater than or equal to one metre wide. Dates for compliance vary according to stock type and terrain.

Minimum setbacks of three metres between stock and the bed of a lake or river will be required, except where permanent fences or riparian planting is already in place to exclude stock.

Where practicable, bridges and culverts must be used to facilitate stock crossing waterways. Where such structures are impracticable, stock may only cross waterways where stock are being actively driven through the water.

Find out more about the Stock Exclusion s360 Regulations

Feedlots and other stockholding areas

Feedlots and other stockholding areas can pose high environmental risks to freshwater if not managed well. Water quality degradation caused by these areas results from the volume and concentration of animal dung and urine (effluent), sediment loss, pugging and soil damage accumulating from holding cattle in a confined space.

If you use feedlots or other types of stockholding areas it is important to consider the new rules and whether you will need to apply for a resource consent.

For more information please read the brochure on Feedlots and other stockholding areas below.

Feedlots and other stockholding areas

Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes

Current provisions have been strengthened by including the requirement to provide telemetered data to us for takes of five litres per second by specified dates. This adds to existing requirements to meter these flows and provide records.

View the measurement and taking of water s360 regulations


In early September 2020, central government’s national direction for halting the degradation of our rivers, lakes and streams was announced. New National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F) cover the construction, placement and use of culverts.

Fish need to be able to move between freshwater habitats to access feeding and spawning environments and maintain viable populations. Structures such as culverts can delay or prevent fish movement and stop them from accessing critical habitats.

Therefore, when planning new structures in rivers (including intermittently flowing waterways), the NES-F require applicants to provide information about the structure to their Regional Council. In some cases resource consents are required if structures are unable to meet certain criteria.

If you are wanting to place, alter, extend or reconstruct a culvert please call our consents team on 0508 800 800 to discuss compliance requirements.

Fish passages

Fish passage is the ability for fish to move unobstructed through waterways. Conversely, barriers to fish passage are any instream structures that may block or impede passage. Many of our native fish, such as whitebait and tuna (eels) need to move between habitats to complete their lifecycles, thus our waterways need to be carefully managed to provide our native fish with the habitat they need. Culverts, weirs, fords, dams and tide flood gates are common in rivers and streams throughout New Zealand and if not designed and implemented correctly, can impede fish passage.

The new freshwater regulations aim to maintain, or improve instream structures, except when it is desirable to prevent the passage of some fish species, to protect a desired fish species (e.g maintaining a weir to protect native fish, where they would otherwise be predated on by trout). The improvement and maintenance of these instream structures will open up additional habitat, thus facilitate population growth within our already threatened native fish populations.

Fish passages

Ministry for the Environment NES-F Webinars

NES-F and s360 regulations Part 1 - Continuous farm practice improvement

Overview of the new NES-F and S360 regulations related to intensive winter grazing, stockholding and stock exclusion

NES-F and s360 regulations Part 2 - Limiting intensification and nitrogen use
Overview of the new regulations related to N Cap and intensification.

Raising the bar on ecosystem health – wetlands, rivers and fish
Overview of the new regulations related to wetlands, rivers and fish passage.