31 August 2021

Deputy Public Service Commissioner Helene Quilter has today announced the appointment of Penny Nelson as Director-General of Conservation and Chief Executive, Department of Conservation (DOC).

Ms Penny Nelson, Te Tumu Whakarae mō Te Papa Atawhai | Director-General of Conservation

The Department of Conservation is the Government’s lead agency for conserving the natural and historic heritage of Aotearoa New Zealand. It has stewardship of about 8.6 million hectares of land, 44 marine reservices and 8 marine mammal sanctuaries. DOC has over 2000 staff at 100 locations across New Zealand.

“I’m very pleased to appoint Ms Nelson to this role,” Ms Quilter said.

“Ms Nelson has broad experience in the environment, biodiversity and science sectors. She is a respected and proven leader in the Public Service with a track record of delivering against key government priorities. She has considerable experience spearheading partnerships between government, business, iwi, NGOs and communities of interest.”  

Ms Nelson is currently the Deputy Director-General Biosecurity New Zealand, at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), a role she has held since 2019. She has previously held the positions of Deputy Director-General, Policy and Trade at MPI and Deputy Secretary, Environmental Performance, Innovation and Climate at the Ministry for the Environment. Prior to joining the Ministry for the Environment, Ms Nelson was Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Council.  

In her role as Deputy Director-General Biosecurity, Ms Nelson is responsible for a significant annual budget and for 1500 staff. Ms Nelson oversees management of biosecurity risk offshore, at the border and within New Zealand. This work includes significant responses to pests and disease.

Ms Quilter said Ms Nelson has demonstrated she has the skills, knowledge and expertise to lead the Department of Conservation.

Ms Nelson has been appointed for five years from 1 November 2021.

Bruce Parkes has been appointed Acting Chief Executive from 14 September, after current Director-General of Conservation Lou Sanson finishes his term on 13 September. 


Media queries: Grahame Armstrong: 021 940 457.


Ms Nelson has been Deputy Director General, Biosecurity New Zealand at the Ministry of Primary Industries since 2019.

Prior to this she was Deputy Directory-General, Policy and Trade at MPI.

From 2015-2018, Ms Nelson was Deputy Secretary, Environmental Performance, Innovation and Climate at the Ministry for the Environment.

Between 2012 and 2015 she was Executive Director at the Sustainable Business Council.

Ms Nelson was General Manager, Working Age Peoples’ Policy at the Ministry of Social Development from 2010-2012.

Before this she was Regional Policy Manager DairyNZ (2008-2010).

From 2004-2006 Ms Nelson was at Landcare Research as Science Leader.

Ms Nelson was General Manager, Workplace Policy at the Department of Labour from 2004-2006.

Ms Nelson holds a Master of Science in Resource Management (Honours) from Lincoln University and Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Otago.