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by Chris Tobin

The Mackenzie Country is close to losing its unique natural and cultural value, a new report says.

“Our current research indicates we need a radical shift in the way we are managing the Mackenzie Country’s landscape,” the Environmental Defence Society said in a report, Te Manahuna – Mackenzie Basin and Landscape Protection, released last week.

The society is a not-for-profit Auckland environmental organisation comprised of resource management professionals.

It has called for improved use of existing management tools in the basin, the establishment of a drylands protected area and the creation of a Mackenzie Basin heritage landscape.

“The 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,” the report authors said.

“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.

“There have been considerable pressures on the area’s landscapes over a long period of time from pastoral farming, rabbits, hydro generation, wilding pines, irrigation and intensive dairying.”

The society said it was concerned at a loss of landscape and natural values through incremental land use change on the basin floor, especially through large-scale dairy conversions.

“In the report, we review the development of Simons Pass Station and the adjacent Simons Hill Station which were slated to house up to 15,000 dairy cows, which would make it the largest dairy farm in Australasia; how roughly 80 separate consents were obtained for this development makes a telling story of system failure.”

The report was co-authored by the society’s policy director, Raewyn Peart, and solicitor Cordelia Woodhouse. It was co-funded by the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand.

“Our constructive discussions with pastoral farmers also indicate a willingness to work with others to preserve the special qualities of the basin, while also making a living from the land.

“We see great potential in applying a new approach to the way we manage landscapes in New Zealand and the Mackenzie Country is a great place to start,’ Ms Peart said.

Commenting on behalf of the group of five agencies with statutory environmental responsibilities in the basin, Environment Canterbury acting chief executive Stefanie Rixecker said the report added considerably to a wide range of valuable information.

“We are heartened by the authors’ acknowledgement of the benefits and progress of the alignment programme and the way the agencies are working together.”

She said the alignment group had a rigorous monitoring, compliance and enforcement regime in the basin and all farms needed a management plan to ensure they were operating at good management practice.

“Higher-risk farms must gain resource consent. If resource consent is required, then farm plans are audited. If farms are not at good management practice, or on the way towards achieving it, then action is taken.”

The report recommends:

  • Establishing a joint-agency compliance, monitoring and enforcement unit in Twizel to strengthen current compliance effort in the Basin.
  • Urgently addressing gaps in the Waitaki district plan.
  • Developing operational policy for discretionary consenting under the Crown Pastoral Land Act.
  • Reforming the Crown Pastoral Land Act to address its weaknesses.
  • Developing a Mackenzie Basin sub-chapter for the Canterbury regional policy statement.
  • Developing a new integrated Canterbury land and water plan to address landscape, biodiversity and freshwater management in an integrated manner.
  • Developing a more focused and supportive concessions policy under the Conservation Act.
  • Establishing a Mackenzie Basin agency team in Twizel to undertake delegated tasks from the five agencies with statutory environmental responsibilities in the basin.
  • Establishing a Mackenzie drylands protected area, comprising publicly owned land
  • Providing a long-term protective layer over private and pastoral leasehold land through the creation of a Mackenzie Basin heritage landscape.
  • Providing supportive mechanisms for landowners and leaseholders within the heritage landscape through the activities of a community trust, tourism branding and priority government funding to support sustainable land management initiatives.
  • Providing independent overseeing of agency performance in preserving the values of the Mackenzie Basin heritage landscape.