Forest & Bird says covenants will not protect Mackenzie

Independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird believes turning Crown-owned Mackenzie Basin pastoral land into private land with covenants will not properly protect the area’s scenic tussocklands from destruction.

Forest & Bird recently obtained documents under the Official Information Act that reveal that thousands of hectares of pastoral lease land in the Mackenzie Basin is likely to be privatised under QEII covenants.

High country QEII covenants are difficult and costly to enforce, and often provide little real or permanent protection of native plants and creatures, or enable their restoration.

Forest & Bird Otago/Southland Field Officer Sue Maturin says high country covenants allow continued grazing, and some even allow deer grazing, oversowing and topdressing. “The two largest covenants in the Mackenzie Basin have been topdressed and sown with exotic pasture species in recent years.

“One Mackenzie Basin landowner refused to carry out wilding tree control in a covenanted area.”

Covenant management plans and monitoring results are usually secret, and covenants rarely allow unrestricted public access.

“The Department of Conservation (DOC) does a far better job at returning land to its natural beauty and protecting its native plants and animals. You only need to visit the Tekapo Scientific Reserve to see how the tussock grassland recovers once stock and rabbits are removed,” Sue Maturin says.

“This land was once almost completely denuded of tussock. Since stock were removed and rabbits controlled to low levels there has been a dramatic recovery of native species and tussock and reduced bare ground.”

In documents Forest & Bird obtained under the Official Information Act, a DOC manager expresses concern about covenants: “In the high country environment DOC would question whether landowners have the capacity and/or interest to manage covenants for their biodiversity values in perpetuity. This is especially so when covenants involve large areas, and are ecosystems that are inherently unstable and depleted. Problems can be compounded because landowners expect to continue status quo management, ie grazing.”

Forest & Bird is calling for the Government to change its high country policy and stop the rush towards privatising land currently publicly owned through pastoral leases.

“The Crown Pastoral Lease Act requires that land with significant value be protected by returning it to full public ownership. The Government needs to give DOC the resources to carry out this function,” Sue Maturin says.

Federated Farmers claims that farmers are the best protectors of the natural values of their land don’t stack up, she says. “On the one hand, Federated Farmers says farmers are the best conservationists and on the other hand the organisation commends increased irrigation in the Mackenzie. Irrigation is the quickest way to destroy every last shred of the area’s tussocklands and the creatures they support.”