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Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands - Lee Speech

Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes

Speech to open the Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park
Pathfinder Lodge, Lake Lyndon, Waimakariri Basin, North Canterbury.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me today to mark the opening of New Zealand’s first tussock grasslands conservation park, the Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park.

We have just come out of a formal consultation period that started in April on whether or not this park should be created.

The public support in favour was overwhelming.

All but one of the submissions received by the Department of Conservation backed the creation of the park. That made my decision as Minister to formally gazette it into existence extremely easy.

The name "Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park" has been chosen to reflect the significant ecological, cultural, historic and landscape values through its 22,000 hectares of magnificent high country.

"Korowai" promotes the concepts of embracement, collectiveness, togetherness and prestige. It also recognises the historic connection that the Ngai Tahu tupuna Tanetiki had with the area.

"Torlesse" has a huge historic significance for Canterbury, connecting people with the land by using the name of the first European to set foot on this mountain range. Also, the original Forest and Bird park proposal 10 years ago was centred on the Torlesse Range so it is appropriate to acknowledge the important values associated with this natural feature.

“Tussocklands Park” reflects the dominant vegetation and ecology of the area and to emphasise the fact that this is one of the few areas designated to protect these particular values.

Most of us have an affinity with the vast open places of the New Zealand high country where we can live, work, play, and experience a unique sense of wilderness.

This affinity extends well beyond those who live in or near these areas, and it is reflected in the efforts of those who were instrumental in the park’s creation.

I pay tribute to the vision of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, which proposed back in 1991 that a conservation park be established covering the Torlesse Range. I am delighted the dream that Forest and Bird has worked towards over the years has now become a reality. The efforts of Mike Harding, Eugenie Sage, Lesley Shand and Gerry McSweeney warrant our special thanks.

I have also been impressed by the support for the park from the local high country community, Ngai Tahu, Federated Mountain Clubs and other groups, the Selwyn District Council and other local and central government agencies.

Thanks also to the Canterbury-Aoraki Conservation Board for championing the park, and to local DOC staff for helping to bring the vision to reality.

I want to pay special tribute to the Nature Heritage Fund for making strategic land purchases during the past decade that enabled the original Torlesse park proposal to be extended, and to my predecessors for supporting those initiatives.

The recent acquisitions of Benmore, Avoca and the Adams' blocks have greatly enhanced the park, by securing additional areas of significant value.

The Korowai Torlesse tussocklands park has to be one of the jewels in the crown of the Nature Heritage Fund.

That is why it is appropriate for me today to launch a Nature Heritage Fund publication entitled "Saving New Zealand's Natural Heritage".

This booklet has been produced to celebrate the first decade of the existence of the Nature Heritage Fund.

The Fund has strong community support from farmers and conservationists. It operates on the basis of having a willing seller and a willing buyer.

As a result it has tapped into the desire of many farming families to protect an outstanding natural asset, while being paid a fair price.

Where the landowners are keen to retain title, the Nature Heritage Fund is very comfortable with negotiating covenants for ecosystems worthy of permanent protection.

Since 1990, the Fund has protected more than 176,000 hectares of high value ecosystems including forests, wetlands and heathlands.

The acquisition of the land blocks for this park means that the sum paid out by successive governments through the Nature Heritage Fund (and its predecessor) has now topped $40-million.

That $40-million of taxpayer funds committed during the past decade to protect biodiversity on private land is money well-spent in contributing to New Zealand's conservation heritage.

Under the Biodiversity Strategy adopted last year, the Labour-Alliance coalition has made a commitment to spend almost that same amount of money again but over a shorter five year period.

An extra $37-million has been committed to protect and maintain biodiversity on private land through the Nature Heritage Fund, Nga Whenua Rahui and the Queen Elizabeth-the-second National Trust.

The Biodiversity Strategy set out goals to be achieved in order to turn the tide on our most pervasive environmental problem, the decline of our native animal and plant species, our "indigenous biodiversity".

It seeks to establish a more representative range of natural habitats and ecosystems secure in public ownership.

In particular, the strategy recognises that conservation goals can't be achieved by government agencies alone, but will require the engagement of the wider community. I am sure that the Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park will serve as a model in the future for what can be achieved through such community involvement and support.

High country tussock grasslands and associated unique flora and fauna are complex, varied and dynamic ecosystems that have historically been under-represented in public conservation land.

This new park will give the public access to 22,000 hectares of strikingly beautiful high country, a defining landscape for Canterbury that deserves to be preserved for future generations.

The park encompasses the Torlesse and Big Ben ranges, high, dry mountain ranges with remarkable flora and fauna. Slim-leaved snow tussock or wi kura is common and the high altitude tussock grasslands represent the eastern limit of mid-ribbed snow tussock.

Other natural features within the park include:
 Some of the driest mountain beech or tawhairauriki forest and kanuka shrublands of the region;
 Species-rich shrublands;
 Unusual plants and animals adapted to the unstable screes and rock ridges, such as vegetable sheep, South Island edelweiss, penwiper, Haast’s scree buttercup and scree lobelia;
 Some of the best populations of the vulnerable scree pea;
 Several species of mountain daisy carpet some of the more stable slopes;
 Native grasshoppers, weta, cockroaches, lizards and butterflies;
 Kea, falcon or karearea and pipit or pihoihoi inhabit the grasslands; and
 Tomtit or miromiro, riflemen or titipounamu, and brown creeper or pipipi are present in the beech forests.

It is an important area for botanising, scientific research and natural history studies.
It has been used for several long-term studies on mountain land stability and is known as a type–location for many plants and animals. Many of the research sites remain important as internationally renowned benchmarks.

The Torlesse Range is one of the most accessible in the country, which is entirely appropriate for a park that owes its creation to local people. It is located alongside State Highway 73, only one and a quarter hours drive from Christchurch. Travellers between Christchurch and the West Coast gain an increasingly panoramic view of the park as they approach the hills, as we all did today.

The area is already popular for a wide range of activities such as tramping and hunting, winter climbing and cross-country skiing, picnicking and boating on Lake Lyndon.

A sense that recreation in the area should essentially remain low key has come through, with support for the continuation of these traditional activities, with little need for additional recreational structures.

This is a milestone achievement for the conservation and protection of high country values, and I am sure it will be the first of many.

I am pleased to formally declare open the Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park.


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