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Outstanding landscape protected at Aoraki/Mt Cook

22 March 2008 Media Statement
EMBARGOED TO 1AM, SATURDAY 22 MARCH

Outstanding landscape protected at Aoraki/Mt Cook

Outstanding high country landscape has been protected in a deal announced today by Land Information Minister David Parker and Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick.

The recently agreed tenure review of the 2463 hectare Mt Cook Station pastoral lease, at the head of Lake Pukaki, will result in 1612 hectares or 65 percent of the property becoming public conservation land next to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.

“Important biodiversity protection on the new public conservation land will include tall tussock grasslands and shrublands containing threatened plants, birds and invertebrates,” said Steve Chadwick. “Large parts of the property have not been burnt for over 70 years, so the native vegetation is in very good condition.

“Also protected are lower altitude river flats and terraces beside the Tasman River and the Jollie River delta, which are habitats for threatened braided river birds such as the black-fronted tern/tara.”

David Parker said that the newly protected land on the lower slopes of the Burnett Mountains could be a potential future addition to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, together with 7200 hectares of adjoining land that reverted to the Crown some years ago from the higher slopes of Mt Cook station. The national park would then include the Burnett Mountains from the Tasman River bed to the high tops.

“Today’s announcement could enable the largest addition to the national park since it opened in 1953. In addition, protective covenants have been put in place over the 851 hectares of lower lying land being freeholded to the leaseholder. That will protect landscapes by preventing exotic forestry and subdivision.”

Steve Chadwick said that, in addition to their biodiversity and recreational values, the Burnett Mountains are significant because they help to frame the spectacular view toward Aoraki/Mt Cook from Lake Pukaki.

David Parker said recreation has also been well served by the review. “Public access to the Tasman River flood plain, from the road on the eastern side of Lake Pukaki, will provide for walking, picnicking, photography and tramping. Access up the Jollie River to the Burnett Mountains and Liebig Range will provide for excellent tramping, climbing and ski touring.”

Background information:

• Mt Cook Station is a well-known Mackenzie Country property, which has been in the unbroken stewardship of the Burnett family since 1864. The tenure review outcome announced today was negotiated with leaseholder Donald Burnett by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), in consultation with the Department of Conservation (DoC). The cost to the Crown was $1,815,000. The new public access is expected to be available for public use toward the end of this year.

• Many of the peaks, streams and other landmarks on the property were named after Burnett family members, neighbours, shepherds and farm dogs, and remain as an historic record of early settlement. The grave of Donald Burnett’s father, TD Burnett, is located on the property. The Crown has secured an option to purchase the 142 hectares surrounding the cemetery reserve (at the northern end of the land being freeholded) if the Burnett family ever decide to sell it.

• Vehicle access to the property is from the Braemar/Mt Cook Station road along the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki. Public walking access up the Jollie River will be by way of an easement through existing freehold land held by Mt Cook Station. This access was offered by Mr Burnett, although strictly speaking it was outside the scope of the tenure review.

• The 7200 hectares of the higher slopes of Mt Cook Station that have already reverted to the Crown were previously in a pastoral occupation licence, which was not renewed when it expired in 1996. This land was transferred to DoC management in 2007 and now comprises the Mt Cook Conservation Area.

• The Mt Cook Station pastoral lease is one of 65 properties near lakes the government named in November 2007 as being excluded from tenure review unless certain conditions were met – including lakeside land being retained by the Crown, or the lessee accepting restrictions on the land’s future use and development. The Mt Cook Station tenure review met these conditions and funding approval for the review was given by the Minister for Land Information.

• The 65 percent of Mt Cook Station becoming public conservation land as the result of tenure review is higher than average, reflecting the land’s high natural values.

• Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park covers 70,696 hectares. The park is also part of Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. The addition to the national park of land from the Mt Cook Station tenure review and the former pastoral occupation licence would be subject to the processes of the National Parks Act 1980 and the approval of the New Zealand Conservation Authority.

• Tenure review of a pastoral lease is a voluntary negotiation between the Crown and the leaseholder that results in the transfer of land with significant biodiversity, recreation, historic and public access values to DoC management, and the freeholding of land capable of productive use to the lessee. LINZ is the government agency responsible for South Island high country pastoral leases, and for tenure review negotiations.

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