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Central Otago’s tussock heart must be protected

Central Otago’s tussock heart must be protected

Forest & Bird welcomes proposals to protect the tussock heart of Central Otago’s Hawkdun-Mt Ida Ranges as a conservation park.

The future of the 8400ha plateau is being debated during a review by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) of the Crown owned land, where grazing has been allowed under a Pastoral Occupation Licence.

Forest & Bird agrees with the proposal that the land should be retained by the Crown as a conservation area, and hopes it will eventually become part of the proposed Oteake Conservation Park over the Hawkdun Range.

Forest & Bird spokeswoman Sue Maturin says the tussock grassland plateau is the most extensive, relatively intact grassland at this elevation (1300 -1575 metres above sea level) left in Otago and probably in New Zealand. It is home to a range of endemic invertebrates, and boasts one of the largest remaining areas of the slim snow tussock, Chionochloa macra, which is now rare in New Zealand.

“The conservation and landscape values are enormous, and once opened up for public recreation people will be able to freely explore a vast plateau of tussocks, bogs, and craggy gorges with views out to Aoraki/ Mt Cook,” Sue Maturin says.

The farming families have generally granted access to those “in the know” who ask for access, but for many a sign at the bottom of a legal road suggests it is private land, and disappointed people turn back for fear of trespassing.

The Mt Ida Pastoral Occupation Licence is owned by the Crown and has been leased out for grazing to a syndicate of farmers on a series of short term licences since about 1860. Since 1978, rentals have not been reviewed and the syndicate has paid an annual rental of $1080 - less than 13 cents a hectare each year.

Grazing had become a longstanding tradition there, even though the licence was supposed to be only short term - unlike pastoral leases it was not meant to be granted on a perpetually renewable basis.

“Grazing sheep up in this harsh high area is not benign; it prevents indigenous vegetation from flourishing. Sheep have congregated around the edges of wetlands, pugging them, altering their drainage patterns, and mowing their vegetation.”

Protection of the snow tussock plateau from grazing is also important for retaining water sources, Sue Maturin says. With its bogs, tarns and streams, the tussock plateau “harvests” water to feed into the Maniototo Plains, where water for irrigation is scarce, and into the Waitaki Valley where it contributes to hydro waters in Lake Aviemore.


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