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Damage to protected woodland remnants: Canterbury

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2 December 2013


Damage to protected woodland remnants: Canterbury


Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Chair James Guild today announced that the Trust feels it has no option but to take Canterbury landowner Netherland Holdings Limited to the High Court for extensive damage to two rare woodland remnants on its farm. Both areas are protected by an open space covenant created under the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust Act 1977 and registered on the land title.

Netherland Holdings Limited (NHL) purchased the property in December 2012. Without informing the Trust, NHL took down fences and destroyed approximately 2.4ha (75%) of the indigenous trees and shrubs on two covenant areas that were legally protected. It then carried out earthworks on one of the covenant areas and installed irrigation pipes for a lateral irrigator, and formed a farm track. On the other covenant area it also realigned the fence to make way for a centre-pivot irrigator.

The Trust’s Chief Executive was told by Mr Roelof Wobben, the director of Netherland Holdings Limited, that he had been aware of the protection afforded by the open space covenants prior to carrying out the work.

The woodland remnants were unique and extremely rare. Under priority 1 of New Zealand’s statement of “National Priorities For Protecting Rare And Threatened Native Biodiversity On Private Land” it is a national priority “to protect indigenous vegetation associated with land environments[1] that have 20% or less remaining in indigenous cover. In this case only 0.3 % of the original indigenous vegetation remains and only 0.1% is protected either by covenant or other protection mechanism1. Given the vanishingly small amounts of this type of dryland ecosystem now left on the dry Canterbury Plains, they are regarded as having very high natural heritage values. Only a handful remain and each one has its own assemblage of plants, insects, and birds. Each one is needed to conserve the original Plains biodiversity.

The kanuka sheltered native shrubs, clematis, small herbs, ferns, and a carpet of mosses and lichens. Also of huge importance is the rich insect flora with native moths, beetles, and spiders, with some species only found living on dryland kanuka. Of equal importance is the fact that it contained undescribed flora and fauna. As a consequence of its importance to New Zealand’s biodiversity, one of the cleared areas had also been recognised as an indigenous vegetation and habitat site with significance by the Waimakariri District Council, in addition to being protected by covenant.

Since learning about the actions of the landowner in early June, the Trust has tried to come to an agreement over what actions the landowner must take to put right the damage. Despite strenuous efforts from the Trust to resolve the issue through discussion, an agreement to protect and re-instate the covenants to their original state could not be reached.

“As time is of the essence to restore the damage, we feel we have no option but to now proceed to court. We are also seeking a court injunction to prevent any further damage to the covenanted areas while the action is before the High Court,” Mr Guild said.

“Our normal mode of operation is working in partnership with landowners to secure the permanent protection of special places on private land. Currently we have over 4,200 protection covenants over private land from Northland to Stewart Island. The majority of the Trust’s covenants are over farmland. Our covenants protect some of New Zealand’s rarest and most endangered habitat types, equivalent in size to the combined areas of Aoraki/Mt Cook, Paparoa, and Abel Tasman national parks.

In the rare circumstance where issues arise, our preference is to discuss the matter directly and seek resolution that way. We have not had a satisfactory outcome in this case, so we are compelled to take the matter further,” Mr Guild said.

“The landowner in question appears to have shown blatant disregard for the protection status of an open space covenant and of a significant natural area in Canterbury by clearing the covenant to facilitate irrigation on the property, as he informed the Trust that he was aware of the protected status of the covenant areas before he undertook the clearance and earthworks. Action of this magnitude is unprecedented in the 36-year history of the National Trust.

“We consider this a gross betrayal of the original farmer-covenantor’s intentions and it is essential that we fulfil our obligations as perpetual trustee and defend the integrity of the covenant agreement,” he said.

Mr Guild said the primary objective of the Trust’s action is to require the landowner to restore what has been damaged.

“This will be a major undertaking and a costly exercise for both parties, but our message is clear; the deliberate destruction of an area protected with the Trust is utterly unacceptable, and we can and will take action to enforce open space covenants.”

Mr Guild said the case highlights an attitude of one person that is detrimental both to the environment and to the reputation of New Zealand’s agricultural sector.

“This behaviour beggars belief. It has the ability to cause great damage to the reputation of farmers as responsible land stewards by overshadowing the generosity of those thousands of individual farmer-covenantors and other landowners who generously protect places of natural or cultural significance on their land,” he said.

“Now more than ever we need to be mindful of the impact of our actions on the environment and invest as much as we can in our natural capital. Landowners are playing a crucial role in protecting what is left of our natural heritage and demonstrate that production, profitability and conservation can co-exist,” he said.

ENDS
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