Forests under the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906

Find out about land held under the South Island Landless Natives Act, indigenous forestry exemptions for landowners under the Act, and options for its ongoing development.

History of SILNA

In 1906, 4,000 individuals of Māori descent were given around 57,000 hectares of land under the South Island Landless Natives Act (SILNA). The land was transferred after concerns that land purchase agreements left some sections of the South Island Māori population with insufficient land to support themselves.

Forest survey

A survey of SILNA forest land was completed in 1999. It estimated that around 17,300 hectares of SILNA land remained under some form of indigenous forest cover.

These forests made up:

  • less than 0.03% of NZ's indigenous forest estate
  • 1.6% of all privately-owned indigenous forests
  • around 4% of Māori-owned indigenous forests.

About 5,000 hectares of SILNA forests are considered to be of high value to conservation in New Zealand.

Two blocks were left out of the 1999 estimate – Toi Toi and Port Adventure – as they are subject to processes set out in the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.

SILNA forest management

SILNA forests are exempt from certain provisions of the Forests Act. Their exemption is in recognition of the history of their peoples and the compensation granted to them in 1906.

Two options are available for owners of SILNA forest land:

  • sustainable management
  • ongoing conservation.

Sustainable forest management

Sustainable forest management broadly replicates the natural processes within an indigenous forest system by limiting the harvest and maintaining forest structure.

Plans and permits

SILNA owners may harvest forests on their land without needing a sustainable forest management (SFM) plan or permit – provided they adhere to the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Restrictions on the sale of SILNA timber

Harvesting without an SFM plan or permit means the felled timber may only be sold on the domestic market.

To export their timber, SILNA owners must bring their forests under a sustainable forest management plan or permit.

Planning for the future

A sustainable forest management plan or permit enables landowners to receive an ongoing income stream while the natural values within the block are maintained.

Conservation covenants

Voluntary conservation protection can be done through conservation covenants. SILNA landowners can enter into covenants through negotiations with DOC through one of their funding programmes. Details are on the Department of Conservation (DOC) website:

Conservation protection is primarily given to SILNA forests identified as being of high value to conservation in New Zealand. Several blocks of land are already covered under these guidelines, including:

  • the Tautuku-Waikawa block on the south-east coast of Otago
  • West Rowallan in Southland
  • 2 independent Waitutu blocks on the Southland coast.

Owners of land covered by a conservation covenant:

  • must ensure land is kept in a state of conservation
  • need to allow ongoing public access
  • retain all ownership rights
  • maintain interests in any income generated from the commercial uses of the land – including tourism operations conducted as part of the conservation covenant.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email

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