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Court Decision A Victory For High Country Native Plants

22 November 2012
Forest & Bird media release

Court Decision A Victory For High Country Native Plants

Forest & Bird says an Environment Court decision is an important win in the fight to protect the significant areas of native plants on land privatised through the badly-imbalanced high country tenure review process.

The conservation charity took the Waitaki District Council and Federated Farmers to court in June to overturn an exemption in the Waitaki District Council’s District Plan that meant the rules in the plan intended to protect native plants did not apply to land that had been privatised through the tenure review process. The court found that the exemption did not achieve the District Plan’s objectives or the ‘sustainable management’ purpose of the RMA.

“The exemption in the District Plan meant that farmers who had received high country land through the tenure review process were free to clear tussock, shrublands and other important native vegetation that is already so reduced in the Waitaki District,” says Forest & Bird’s Solicitor Sally Gepp.

“A major current trend is vegetation clearance for conversion to dairy farms, or the creation of lifestyle subdivisions,” she says.

The Crown Pastoral Land Act was created in 1998 and sets out a process for transferring land from the Crown to farmers with pastoral leases over the land. That process is known as ‘tenure review.’ The Court accepted Forest & Bird’s evidence that while the tenure review process requires consideration of the land’s ecological values, its outcomes do not always result in the protection of those values.

“Our evidence showed that in lower altitude areas where the least native plants remain, less than half of the areas that the Department of Conservation had identified as ‘significant’ were retained in Crown ownership,” Sally Gepp says.

“The remaining areas were freeholded with no form of protection. The problem is that the Waitaki District Council then decided that its Plan wouldn’t protect those areas either.”

Federated Farmers told the Court that there was no point in having a vegetation clearance rule because it doesn’t control other farming activities such as intensive grazing, which can also cause substantial vegetation change.

“We are delighted that the Court accepted that clearance is more final and irreversible than grazing, and should be controlled on all land regardless of who owns it. Having said this, we agree that the Plan is inadequate in terms of controlling intensive farming activities such as irrigation, which can be fatal to native plants, and we urge the Council to consider whether the rule should be extended,” Ms Gepp says.

“These tussock lands are part of this country’s natural heritage – that’s why it’s used as a location for so many movies and TV commercials – and many other species there are found almost nowhere else in New Zealand or the world. The Waitaki District Council has a duty to consider more than the interests of farmers.

“This case shows that tenure review is not adequately protecting nature in the high country, and that vegetation clearance rules are important tools to help councils meet their responsibilities,” she says.



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