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Review Of ‘Well-loved’ Wither Hills First In 20 Years

30 MAY 2024

The management of Marlborough’s “well-loved” Wither Hills has been reviewed for the first time in two decades, to find a balance between recreational use and erosion control.

Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor said at the full council meeting this month she was pleased to see the draft plan for the area ready to go out to the community for consultation.

“It's a very well-loved piece of recreational land in the heart of the town. But it's also a very key piece of land for us in terms of erosion control,” Taylor said.

“So the plan is seeking to find the balance between utilisation and erosion management.

“I'll be really keen to see what the people think about it.”

After “pre-consultation” with council staff, iwi and key stakeholders in 2022, and public consultation that drew 93 submissions in 2023, the council held a workshop two weeks ahead of the draft plan’s release to fine-tune it.

The plan said the hills were bought in 1944 to address soil conservation issues, and the former Marlborough Catchment Board, the former Blenheim Borough Council and the Marlborough District Council had put a “huge amount of effort” into stabilising the hills to protect Blenheim.

While soil conservation for the 1029 hectares remained its “primary purpose”, the Wither Hills Farm Park was also used for recreation, such as walking, running and mountainbiking.

It was also a working farm, which the plan said was an important management tool, as it supported fire risk, vegetation management and weed control.

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The key issues for the park included managing erosion, managing fire risk, ensuring a suitable range of recreational opportunities were provided, what should be planted where, ensuring farming was effective for management, and working with iwi and the community.

Each key issue was backed with objectives and policies. For example, the plan had a policy to develop and maintain a 10-year soil and water management programme, to be updated every three years.

Other programmes to be developed were a fire plan, and a mountainbiking work programme to identify opportunities within the park and develop them.

Marlburians are encouraged to submit on a draft of the new plan, which was approved by the Marlborough District Council on May 16.

Submissions on the plan would open on June 10 and close on August 9. A panel consisting of chairperson councillor Brian Dawson, deputy mayor David Croad and councillor Scott Adams would hear and consider submissions.

Much of the Wither Hills Farm Park was freehold council-owned land, although two areas were Crown-owned, with management and control vested in the council.

A 42ha QEII National Trust Protective Covenant existed on the east of the Sutherland Stream valley which had been in place since 1994, however the regenerating dryland kānuka ecosystem was severely damaged in the Boxing Day 2000 fire, which significantly set back restoration of the site, the draft plan said.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ on Air.

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