Tenure Review Q & A

Forest & Bird has campaigned to get better protection of the conservation values of the high country through the process of tenure review. Our lobbying has resulted in significant changes to the process, which mean that our high country landscapes, wildlife and habitats are better protected.

What is tenure review?

Tenure review is a land “reform” process in which the Government is reviewing South Island high country pastoral leases. When a high country lease goes through a review, some of the current leasehold land goes to the leaseholder as freehold land, while other parts become part of the conservation estate, to be managed by the Department of Conservation.
Leaseholders can choose whether or not they enter tenure review, and each property is reviewed individually.

What is a pastoral lease?

Much of the South Island high country has been farmed under some form of lease since the 1850s, and these leases were consolidated in a pastoral lease system under the Land Act 1948, which granted leaseholders exclusive occupation rights and fixed rentals but no right of freehold.

Under the Crown Pastoral Land Act, which updated legislation covering pastoral leases in 1998, pastoral leaseholders are entitled to perpetual right of renewal (the leases come up for renewal every 33 years) and pay nominal rents (set in the Act at between 1.5% and 2.25% of unimproved land value, with rents reviewed every 11 years.) The land is still owned by the Crown.

What rights do leaseholders have?

Leaseholders may use the land for grazing, but may not subdivide or sell the land (they are not the owner) and may not put it to other uses such as vineyards or more intensive farming without consent from the Commissioner of Crown Land. They can build dwellings and must live on the property (unless they apply for an exemption) and can control public access. They can sell the lease but not the land.

What is the purpose of tenure review?

The aim of tenure review was to develop the economic potential of leasehold land, while protecting its conservation values. The National Government’s stated intention in the 1990s was that the split between land that was made freehold and land protected in the conservation estate would be 50:50.

The Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 states that land with “significant inherent values” – including historic, ecological, scientific and cultural characteristics – should be protected by being restored to full Crown ownership and control.
Under the Labour-led Government’s “High Country Objectives” finalised in 2003, it states that tenure review will:

• Promote ecologically sustainable land use that is consistent with the NZ Biodiversity Strategy, and protect significant inherent values by restoring land to full Crown ownership and control, or protection measures.
• Free up land capable of economic use from existing constraints.
• Establish a network of high country parks and reserves.
• Secure public access to the high country.
• Obtain a fair financial return to the Crown.

Why do we need to protect the high country?

The South Island high country contains some of our most threatened and unique ecosystems, which are home to many of New Zealand’s endemic and threatened species.

The high country – the mountains, valleys, inter-montane basins, lakes, rivers and wetlands east of the main divide from Marlborough to Southland – is different from anywhere else in New Zealand, or indeed the world. It is a place of big skies, wide open spaces and vistas, unique tussocklands, and landforms shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and rivers.

It is habitat for endangered and endemic species, such as native bats, alpine skinks and geckos, giant weta, native mistletoes, blue duck (whio), wrybill, black-billed gull and black-fronted tern.

The high country also includes some of New Zealand’s most stunning and iconic landscapes and opportunities for a wide variety of leisure activities, with areas such as the Mackenzie Basin and the scenic vistas around Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu a big draw-card for overseas visitors, bringing in many millions of dollars of tourism revenue.

Most of New Zealand’s national parks and reserves are high altitude mountain lands – few protect high country tussock grasslands, shrublands and wetlands, which should be protected if we are to preserve the full range of New Zealand’s diverse plants, wildlife and landscapes.

The high country also provides many opportunities for recreation. On pastoral lease land trampers, walkers, mountain-bikers need permission from leaseholders. When land is protected as part of the conservation estate it is open for the public to enjoy.

Protection of natural features and processes in the high country also contribute to prevention of erosion and flood control, and fresh water “harvesting” and filtration that helps provide drinking water, hydro-electricity generation and irrigation.

Who oversees tenure review?

Tenure review is overseen by Land Information NZ (LINZ), which is responsible for administering the process, consulting the public and interested parties, and negotiating individual reviews. The Minister for Land Information has ministerial oversight of the process. The Department of Conservation prepares reports for LINZ on the conservation, landscape, heritage and recreation values of pastoral leases, but has no decision-making role and only provides advice to LINZ.

What are the outcomes so far?

As at 31 October 2010, 81 pastoral leases covering a total land area of approximately 432,000 hectares have been reviewed; of which approximately 209,000 hectares (48 percent) is designated as public conservation land and approximately 223,000 hectares (52 percent) as freehold.

Of concern to Forest & Bird is that land with high natural values has become privately owned resulting in the loss of rare species and ecosystems. Additionally as a result of tenure review, iconic lakeside landscapes – for example around Lake Tekapo - now lie in private ownership.

As well as handing over the freehold land the Government also paid the former leaseholders $18.5 million.

What are the concerns?

Forest & Bird is concerned that tenure review is not protecting some of New Zealand’s most precious conservation assets.

We believe that the Crown Pastoral Land Act is not being implemented properly and the Crown and public are not getting a fair financial return from their land. The process has been weighted heavily in favour of leaseholders, who are benefiting the most.

While some ecologically important habitats have been added to the conservation estate, tenure review is not protecting the full range of endangered habitats or making sure that areas important for public recreation are easily accessible.

A report by Landcare Research and DOC scientists has concluded that tenure review has privatised land that is most vulnerable to habitat modification and rich in threatened plant species, while protecting land at least risk of biodiversity loss.

Forest & Bird is concerned that tenure review is not protecting the natural values of the high country from uncontrolled development. The restrictions of pastoral leases have previously protected landscapes and ecosystems, but this protection is removed when land becomes freehold.

Measures such as the Resource Management Act and local authorities’ district plans do not adequately control development such as residential subdivision and intensive farming that can significantly and permanently change the natural environment of the high country.

The areas being protected are generally the high altitude, more difficult to access lands with little value for grazing or other farm development. Lower altitude lands, including lakeside and riverside areas which are accessible to wider range of the public, are often handed into private ownership without protection.

What needs to be changed?

Forest & Bird is seeking a more accountable process that delivers the results promised by the government and the Crown Pastoral Land Act, and provides a genuine balance between the needs of high country leaseholders, conservation and the New Zealand public. We seek this through:
• More robust and transparent public consultation so that the public’s views are actually taken into account.
•  A more extensive network of parks and reserves that protects the full range of high country ecosystems and landscapes. 
• Adherence of individual tenure reviews to the outcomes stipulated in the Crown Pastoral Land Act, especially that significant inherent values are protected.
• A fairer split between freehold and conservation land.
• A process that allows for more effective advocacy for conservation.
• A fair financial return to the Crown in return for giving former leaseholders private ownership of land.

What has been achieved?

In 2007 Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Land Information Minister David Parker announced that changes would be made to tenure review to better protect landscapes around high country lakes.

The changes will greatly improve protection of some of the high country’s most iconic landscapes – as a result, 65 properties were excluded from tenure review because they included significant lakefront land.

The Government also promised to also exclude pastoral leases from tenure review if they have “significant … landscape, biodiversity or other values that are unlikely to be protected satisfactorily by tenure review.”

Forest & Bird will continue to monitor progress of tenure review to ensure that other unique and fragile parts of the high country – such as its rivers and tussock basins - will be protected.

While Forest & Bird welcomed the changes made by the Government it continues to campaign to ensure that tenure review adequately protects the conservation and recreation values of the high country for all New Zealanders to enjoy.