OPINION: Protecting our landscapes coming into renewed focus

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OPINION: INES STAGER

Recently the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) released a report titled Mackenzie Basin and Landscape Protection

The vast dryland landscapes of the basin have been valued by New Zealanders and visitors to this country for a long time. Changes have come about rather rapidly through land use intensification, irrigation, the spread of wilding trees, lupins and briar, rabbits and wallabies.

The lack of landscape protection has been discussed at various public forums and workshops and a trust was set up to try to achieve some balance through a collaborative approach. However, it appears that little progress to protect these diverse and fragile landscapes has been achieved to date.

A recent financial injection by the Government to deal to wilding pines is a welcome and wise use of funding, as it not only controls these very invasive trees but also provides work for people hit by the economic fallout as a result of Covid-19.

The targeted lodgepole pines Pinus contorta) are unwanted organisms under the 1993 Biosecurity Act, and classified a pest in the Canterbury Regional Council pest management plan.

They have spread widely in these dryland landscapes since being planted in the 1950s to provide shelter, control erosion and apparently to “beautify” these treeless landscapes.

Two projects will benefit from this latest government funding, one area at Ohau and the other at Tekapo.

Russell lupins have been a bone of contention for some time. Tourists appear to love them, believing them native to this country. They may be pretty when they flower, but the message that is seldom revealed to visitors is their negative effects on fragile native ecosystems.

In recent years the Commissioner of Crown Lands has allowed high country farmers to plant Russell lupins on pastoral lease land, against the advice of the Department of Conservation.

It is unclear whether the benefit lies in soil conservation through lupin cover versus the impact on conservation values in adjacent areas, which may be a threat to fragile ecosystems.

The EDS report includes two new initiatives: ” . . . the establishment of a Mackenzie drylands protected area, comprising publicly-owned land; and the creation of a Mackenzie Basin Heritage Landscape, which would provide an extra protective layer over the balance of the basin combined with substantial Government funding to support sustainable land management”.

The report states: Mackenzie Basin is the only place in the country where it is still possible to see the entire intact glacial sequence from existing glaciers in the Southern Alps, through to moraines, outwash terraces and plains. It is home to a vast array of indigenous species, many of which are rare and especially adapted to the very harsh cold and dry climate.

“Slow” tourism may be one of the answers, a way of connecting visitors with the natural, cultural and historical landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin, while potentially enhancing local economies.

  • Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.