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Conservation misses out again

6 September 2006 - Christchurch

Forest and Bird media release

Conservation misses out again in latest high country privatisation

Government plans to hand 92% of high country station Blairich into private ownership and protect just 7% as public conservation land have heightened Forest & Bird’s concerns that tenure review is short-changing conservation.

Blairich is the latest high country pastoral lease to undergo tenure review – a land reform process in which leaseholders gain freehold ownership of land, while other parts of the property are protected as conservation land. Forest & Bird South Island Field Coordinator Eugenie Sage says the split of Blairich in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley, which will see 2941 hectares pass into private ownership, and just 230 hectares protected as conservation land, falls alarmingly short of the 50:50 split promised by the government as the overall outcome of tenure review.

“Blairich is one of the very few areas of low altitude high country in this part of south Marlborough that is not in freehold ownership. It was a unique opportunity to protect low altitude indigenous vegetation and habitats, given their limited extent in Marlborough’s reserve system,” Eugenie Sage says.

She says the Blairich proposal will effectively deny the public access to more than 15 kilometres of the scenic Blairich River for tramping and walking because no public access easements are established up the river.

An independent report for the Department of Conservation recommended two areas totalling 485ha be protected as public conservation land. Virtually all of the northern slopes of Blairich Range, which have high landscape values, will become privately owned. This sub-alpine and montane area includes rock outcrops, special plants restricted to south Marlborough, habitat for lizards and the New Zealand falcon, a threatened species.

The land is steep, subject to erosion and continued grazing is not sustainable. An 85ha area of indigenous shrublands and forest remnants on the southern faces of Hooper Ridge above Glen Craig Stream is also being freeholded. DOC’s independent ecological report describes it as, “one of the best opportunities to protect a lowland area in this part of Marlborough, with considerable potential for regeneration of the original forest communities.” It contains very rare plants such as narrow leafed lacebark.

“Forest and Bird is not confident that a proposed covenant will protect either the Blairich Range or Hooper Ridge areas, given the intensive grazing of sheep and cattle which the covenant allows, and the failure of other covenants on pastoral lease land.

There is no public access to the Hooper Ridge covenant,” Eugenie Sage says. Background Notes

Public submissions on the Preliminary Proposal for Blairich closed on 4 September. Further information including maps and the Department of Conservation’s Conservation Resource Report is at www.linz.govt.nz/core/crownproperty/highcountry/leaseslist/blairich/index.html

The current unformed legal road up the Blairich River does not provide practical access to and along the river because of the steepness of the riverbanks in places and the paper road being in the river channel in places. DOC has negotiated access for its vehicles along a farm track close to Blairich River but not for the public on foot or mountain bikes.

LINZ is allowing freeholding virtually right up to Blairich River, Omaka River and Glen Craig Stream, with no riparian buffers to protect indigenous vegetation and buffer the waterways from intensive farm development. Blairich Range The conservation values of the 400ha area on north-facing slopes of Blairich Range which DOC sought as conservation land and which is being freeholded include:

- sub-alpine to upper montane plant communities from 800 – 1450m.

- the most diverse tussock grasslands on Blairich, including remnant snow tussock grasslands.

- good communities of endemic Marlborough plants on rock bluffs.

- important habitat for eastern falcon.

- the most popular recreation site and access route on the property.

- steep, erosion-prone land with significant areas of bare soil on steeper slopes.

Hooper Ridge The conservation values of the 85ha of south-facing slopes of Hooper Ridge proposed for freeholding include:

- one of the very few remnants of forest and shrubland communities which represent the lower altitude plant communities in the southern part of the Wither Hills Ecological District.

- the best streamside plant communities on the property.

- rare plants such as kaikomako and narrow leafed lacebark. The latter is very rare in Marlborough as its lowland habitat is almost extinct.

ENDS

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