Mackenzie drylands protection takes step forward

  • Hon Eugenie Sage
Conservation Land Information

The legal protection of 11,800 hectares of land as new conservation land is a step towards protecting the fragile drylands of Te Manahuna/the Mackenzie Basin, the Minister of Conservation and Land Information Eugenie Sage announced today.

“The new conservation land will come under the korowai or cloak of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands, a collaborative initiative between the Crown, manawhenua, and landholders. It aims to foster active protection and management of significant lower altitude areas in the Mackenzie and Waitaki Basins to protect the area’s stunning landscape values and ensure native plants and wildlife can thrive.

“These 11,800 hectares are ecologically important, lower altitude lands (mainly below 800 metres in altitude) on the floor of the Mackenzie and Waitaki Basins. Their protection helps secure the future of drylands and Basin floor areas for their own sake, and for present and future generations.

“I am delighted that the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) has added its support to Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands. The NZDF will manage almost 15,000 ha. of the Tekapo Military Training Area that it is responsible for, to protect their landscape and biodiversity values; for example through controlling wilding conifers, and ramping up predator control,” Eugenie Sage said.

“Indigenous vegetation and habitats and landscapes at lower altitudes in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basin have been badly affected by agricultural intensification, cultivation, irrigation and dairying which has fundamentally changed the character of the landscape. This and the loss of connected ecosystems has been the source of conflict between environmental advocates, councils, farmers and landowners for decades.

“Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands is looking for a less combative way forward in which the people and stakeholders of the Mackenzie Basin can choose to do the right thing for nature while at the same time doing right by each other,” she said.

“The Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands concept seeks to ensure that the iconic tussocklands, shrublands, uncultivated soils and special plants like the dryland cress or maniototo peppercress, and wildlife from the world’s rarest wading bird the kakī/black stilt to the threatened robust grasshopper are secure. It better recognises the area’s significance to Ngāi Tahu and the contribution landholders, other than the Crown, can make.”

Eugenie Sage acknowledged the strong involvement of manawhenua (Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua, Te Rūnanga o Waihao, and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki) in the project as part of a Treaty partnership and their gifting of the name Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, from a significant tupuna in Te Waka o Aoraki stories.

“I also want to thank the Simons Pass and Twin Peaks leaseholders for agreeing to transfer such a significant amount of land to the public conservation estate to be protected for generations to come.

“I look forward to other landowners and landholders in the Mackenzie and Waitaki Basins supporting the Drylands area concept and joining to manage the lands they are responsible for in a complementary way to sustain landscape and conservation values.”

“Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands has also developed from strong advocacy and hard work over many years by non-governmental organisations such as Forest and Bird and the Mackenzie Guardians, ecologists and landscape architects. They have sought to increase public awareness and understanding of the importance of the Mackenzie’s lowland ecosystems, species and landscapes; and acted, including through the courts, with district and regional councils to protect some of what remains.”

The establishment of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands was made possible by a Nature Heritage Fund (NHF) purchase of part of high country station Ōhau Downs; the transfer of management of the Tasman Riverbed to the Department of Conservation (DOC); and completion of tenure reviews for Simons Pass and Twin Peaks pastoral leases.

The basin floor areas being protected as part of Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands include:

  • 4,100 hectares of unoccupied Crown land in the Tasman riverbed, home to many important species including nationally vulnerable wrybill/ngutu pare and nationally endangered black-fronted tern/tarapirohe. It has been transferred by Land Information NZ to DOC to become public conservation land.
  • 1,792 hectares of glacial outwash lands at Ōhau Downs purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund from Kees Zeestraten. They include the most extensive intact sequences of landforms created by glacial deposits in New Zealand, and tarns, wetland and freshwater complexes with nationally important ecological and landscape values.
  • 3,132 hectares of the Simons Pass pastoral lease (around 56 percent of the pastoral lease) being restored to full Crown ownership to become conservation land, through tenure review. This is more than double the land area originally proposed to become conservation land through tenure review. Simons Pass leaseholders Murray and Barbara Valentine agreed to an additional 1,200 hectares of freehold land along the Pukaki and Tekapo rivers being purchased to become conservation land.
  • 1,631 hectares of the Twin Peaks pastoral lease being restored to full Crown ownership to become conservation land as a result of tenure review, including a 138 hectare scientific reserve protecting one of the last remaining outwash plains in Omarama. 

“There is a long path ahead to safeguard the distinctive character of the natural landscapes of the Mackenzie and Waitaki Basins and ensure we reach the point where indigenous plants and wildlife thrive alongside a prosperous human community. Today’s announcement is another step on that journey” said Eugenie Sage.