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Don't sell Middle Earth.

Don't sell Middle Earth.

A dramatic plea to stop the sale of "Middle Earth" will greet many of those coming to Monday's premiere of the third film of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Forest and Bird today continued its call for a moratorium on tenure review in the South Island high country, and on the sale of pastoral leases to overseas interests. It draped a banner on its Wellington building saying "Don't sell Middle Earth - stop High Country privatisation".

"Parts of the Lord of the Rings were filmed in the South Island's most spectacular high country landscapes. Tenure review on pastoral leases is resulting in publicly owned Crown lands important for conservation and recreation being freeholded and locked up in private ownership," Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager, Kevin Hackwell said.

"To date, some higher altitude lands have been protected. Significant areas with high conservation and recreation values at lower altitudes and around lake shores that deserve protection have been, or are being, freeholded and privatised," he said.

"Major changes are needed to the tenure review process to safeguard the public interest and special landscapes of the high country."

"The situation is being made worse by overseas interests prepared to pay very high prices for pastoral leases as trophy properties or to develop for tourism or more intensive farming. Strategically important properties such as two adjacent to iconic landscapes like Canterbury's Porter's Pass are now fully or part owned by absentee overseas interests.

"Rising prices for pastoral leases make it extremely difficult for Government agencies and the Nature Heritage Fund to afford to buy out the lessee's interest for recreation and conservation. Opportunities to protect important habitats and open up land for public recreation and access are being lost," he said.

"Spiraling land prices can make farming a less economic land use, encouraging more intensive uses such as viticulture and subdivision. This can dramatically change high country landscapes with a loss of their indigenous plants and open and expansive natural character, so important for films like the Lord of the Rings," he said.

"Forest and Bird calls on the government to take time out from tenure review to develop new policy criteria and guidelines; and to put a moratorium on the sale of pastoral leases to overseas interests until the review of the Overseas Investment Act is completed.

"The Overseas Investment Act needs a major overhaul. No more high country leases should be sold overseas until that happens," he said.

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