ORC roles in willow management

ORC has responsibilities for willows based on:

  • Applying RMA rules in Otago’s regional plans and national regulations that may require resource consent for willow removal in the beds of streams or within wetlands – see below
  • River management to maintain flood capacity and minimise related risks to bank erosion and downstream infrastructure. This responsibility is mainly limited to land and river-bed in public ownership, especially where ORC (or the preceding Catchment Board) was involved in the initial planting of willows. In these situations, ORC can assist in the identification of specific problematic willows and arranging their removal by spraying with herbicide and/or mechanical means, followed by chipping or burning using ORC-approved contractors. For more information, please contact our engineering team on engineering@orc.govt.nz
  • Ensuring river bank protection against erosion sometimes involved planting or replacing willows, generally in the lower reaches of Otago’s major rivers. Sterile clones that cannot reproduce are used for this purpose. For more detail, see our Flood Protection and River Management

There are no direct ORC responsibilities for biodiversity, biosecurity or water saving issues related to willows. Willows are listed in our Regional Pest Management Plan as an ‘organism of interest’, which means they are ‘watch-listed’ for ongoing surveillance but without an official current pest status.

Any large-scale initiatives to reduce the prevalence of willows will require significant resources and consideration of consent and river engineering matters. Recent community-led and Government-supported projects in the Lindis, Upper Taieri and Thomsons Creek have involved liaison with ORC’s river engineers, with the latter also requiring ORC resource consent for willow removal.

It is understood that some local communities and individual landowners are concerned by the impacts of invasive willows. ORC anticipates that where communities prioritise willow control, this may be incorporated into non-regulatory ‘Community Action Plans’ which will be progressively developed across Otago using an Integrated Catchment Management approach.

Rules on willow removal

There are rules which may apply to the removal of willows from in and around rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

What rules apply will depend on where the willows are located and the method you use to remove them.

Please check the rules if you are planning to remove willow from:

  • within the bed of rivers or lakes
  • along the bank of rivers or lakes
  • within a wetland or
  • within a 10 m setback from a wetland

Where herbicide is to be used for kill willows, you need to meet the permitted activity conditions (including neighbour notifications) or apply for resource consent.
If you are unsure if your activity requires resource consent, please get in touch with us by emailing consent.enquiries@orc.govt.nz or call 0800 474 082.


Gimmer Burn 2022 Photo: Garry Lahood


Other regulatory matters

  • If willows are located on a waterway managed by ORC for flood and/or drainage purposes, check the Flood Protection Management Bylaw 2022 and contact engineering@orc.govt.nz in case bylaw approval is needed.
  • Under the National Plant Pest Accord 2020, it is illegal to propagate or plant crack willow in NZ. 
  • If the willows are affecting local road, powerline or other infrastructure, you will need to liaise with the relevant infrastructure owner, such as the local District Council, Aurora or the NZ Transport Agency.
  • Any District Plan protections (such as notable/protected tree status).
  • If using herbicide sprays, or burning removed willows, check that you can comply with the permitted activity conditions under the Regional Plan Air for Otago (or view our Outdoor Burning page for guidance).