A key nature-based solution for dairy farms and agricultural landscapes

Regenerating our natural resources is intrinsically linked to safeguarding the future of the environments and communities our Co-op depends upon. 

Implementing nature-based solutions is a key way for us to both reduce our impact on the climate, water and biodiversity and help regenerate the natural ecosystems where we farm.

Nature-based solutions are initiatives that protect, sustainably manage, or restore nature. They help to solve food and water security challenges, climate change, and disaster risks while positively contributing to biodiversity and social wellbeing.  

Wetlands are a nature-based solution that provide ecological services and multiple benefits to farming landscapes. This includes filtering contaminants, storing water, sequestering carbon, and safeguarding communities from flooding.

Historically, the lowland catchments where dairy farming happens used to have large areas of wetlands. These areas were seen as ‘unproductive swamps and bogs’, so were drained and converted into ‘productive’ pasture and cropping land. 

There is now more understanding about the vital ecological services wetlands play in farming landscapes, so there are increasing efforts globally and locally to protect existing wetlands and restore historic wetlands.

Wetlands in Aotearoa New Zealand

Wetlands are a vital part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural heritage, providing critical habitats for many of our unique and threatened species. They support a greater concentration of wildlife species than any other native habitat and are considered taonga (precious) by Māori, the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa. Wetland loss has occurred rapidly over the last 150 years due to agriculture and urban development. For example, freshwater wetlands originally occupied 2.5M hectares across New Zealand, but now only cover 250,000 hectares, a loss of 90%.

Protecting and restoring wetlands

The importance and cost-effectiveness of maintaining or re-instating natural wetlands is now well recognised, with scientific agreement that wetlands should occupy at least 1-5% of their contributing catchment to help achieve water quality benefits¹.

While lowland farming has impacted wetland loss, dairy farms are an important part of the solution, as they contain more wetland remnants and restoration opportunities.

We have been working with the New Zealand Department of Conservation, iwi, scientists, catchment groups and councils for the past 10 years to protect and restore wetlands on-farm, at our manufacturing sites, and in dairying catchments across the country.

[1] i.e 100 - 500 m2 of wetland per hectare - NIWA Constructed wetland guidelines – Summary of Constructed Wetland Guidelines 2020 v2.pdf (niwa.co.nz)


Our Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Team works with farmers to develop and implement Farm Environment Plans and support them to identify wetland opportunities. Many of our farmer shareholders have existing wetlands on their farms and are motivated to do more to protect and enhance them. Others are looking to re-establish historic wetlands or construct new wetlands as part of their environmental improvement and restoration plans. In some cases, we have provided financial support to larger scale wetland projects on farms that have wider community and catchment water quality, biodiversity and resilience benefits. 

Fencourt Wetland
Hapuku Wetland
Pigsty Wetland
Whirinaki Wetland
Waitohu Stream Wetland
Muir Farm Wetland
Bell Farm Wetland
Waiotahi/Nukohou North Wetland
Silverbank Farm Wetland
Canterbury Wetland Demonstration Projects

Managing Wetlands as Farm Assets

Around the Co-op

The Co-op has ambitious programmes and targets for water reduction and wastewater treatment at each of its sites to meet leading industry standards. Natural and constructed wetlands are playing an important role in achieving these targets and are world-leading demonstrations of nature-based solutions in action.


Our Partnerships

To help improve water quality and biodiversity in the areas that we operate, we achieve more by working with others. Our aspiration is to help reverse the decline of New Zealand’s natural resources by partnering with others to solve local and global environmental issues. Over the past 10 years we have helped support a wetland restoration movement across Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Hikurangi Swamp, Northland
Wairoa River catchment, Auckland
Pūkorokoro-Miranda Wetland, Hauraki
Waikato Peat Lakes
Pongakawa River catchment, Bay of Plenty
Tukipo Wetland, Hawkes Bay
Rawhitiroa Wetland, South Taranaki
Pukepuke Lagoon, Manawatu-Wanganui
Ruapaka Wetland, Marlborough
Ararira-LII River catchment, Canterbury
Coes Ford Wetland, Canterbury
Sinclair Wetlands, Otago
Waipahi wetland, Southland
Waituna Lagoon, Southland