Foreign owner’s conservation gift

New Zealand’s largest-ever conservation covenant of 53,000 hectares between Arrowtown and Wanaka is the result of the generosity and foresight of a foreign owner.

Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith made the announcement yesterday:

“The permanent protection of this idyllic area of Otago that forms the backdrop for Wanaka and Arrowtown is a fantastic conservation achievement. The area between the Shotover River and Cardrona Range covering 80 per cent of the Motatapu, Soho, Glencoe and Coronet Peak Stations is equivalent to the combined size of the Abel Tasman and Paparoa National Parks. The Queen Elizabeth II National Trust secures protection for about 3500 hectares per year and so to achieve 53,000 in a single covenant is extraordinary,” Dr Smith says.

“The covenant protects a wide variety of ecosystems from wetlands, tussock grasslands, native shrub lands, alpine cushion fields and stunning mountain peaks. The area already hosts the annual Motatapu event and a multi-day tramping track from Glendhu Bay to Arrowtown. Added areas are to be opened up for public access and enjoyment as part of the agreement reached with the landowner.

“I want to acknowledge this extraordinary act of generosity by Soho Property Limited and Mr Mutt Lange. This huge conservation covenant illustrates how overseas ownership can bring benefits to New Zealand. They have invested millions in weed and pest control, fencing and over 95 per cent of the stations are now in protection. New Zealanders have greater access to this stunning country and better facilities than ever before. We should judge proposals for overseas ownership of farms on merit rather than simplistic bans that would lose positive initiatives like this.

This would never happen if the xenophobic policies of Labour, New Zealand First and their anti-foreign ownership fellow travellers.

“This initiative is part of the Government’s broader programme of achieving more for conservation through partnerships. The Government increased the funding for the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust this year from $3.2 million to $4.2 million per annum as well as establishing the $26 million Community Conservation Partnership Fund. The Government does not need to own every area of land with conservation values and can achieve more by helping private sector conservation.”

In Labour’s last term it stopped pastoral lease land being covented in this way.

The Queen Elizabeth II National Trust is an independent statutory organisation established in 1977 to secure long-term protection of natural and cultural features on private land. The Trust partners with landowners on open space covenants, which are legally binding protection agreements registered on the title of the land. Covenants are voluntary but once in place, they bind the current and all subsequent owners of the affected land.

“I commend the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust on securing this covenant and their work with Soho Property Limited. This is the largest covenant ever achieved, with covenants generally averaging 30 hectares. This is an important and lasting legacy for the protection of New Zealand’s heritage that will be appreciated for generations to come.”

This shows that ownership by the public, or individual New Zealanders, isn’t essential for conservation.

Dr Smith said the agreement showed the Government did not need to own every area of land with conservation values, and could achieve more by helping private sector conservation.

Little would be gained from having the land in a conservation or national park, as the covenants provided ”very strong” protection – ”albeit the public is getting the benefit, but someone else is meeting the costs of the ongoing maintenance of the area”.

”We’re ending up with 95% of these four huge stations in protection with good quality public access and improved visitor facilities.

”It’s a real message to those who are point-blank opposed to overseas ownership that you need to be more flexible than that.”

Soho Properties lawyer Willy Sussman said he had been ”at pains” to explain to Mr Lange the magnitude of what he was agreeing to.

”I was almost labouring the point – I asked him ‘do you understand what this means?”

”His reply was just one word – ‘absolutely’.”

As well as being a ”musical genius”, his Switzerland-based client was an unconventional and far-sighted thinker who wanted to ”make a positive difference to the world”.

”He doesn’t do it for fame, he doesn’t do it for fortune, and he doesn’t do it for publicity – he does it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Queen Elizabeth II National Trust chairman James Guild said Mr Lange had made an ”extraordinary bequest to the country” that went far beyond any Overseas Investment Office requirements.

As well as protecting native plant and animal habitats and historic and recreation values, the agreement would formalise and improve public access to the area.

Soho Properties and the trust were working with the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, the Queenstown Trails Trust and local walking and mountain biking groups to further improve public access.

”It will effectively be New Zealand’s first national park in private hands.”

The company was spending ”significant sums” to control wilding pines, weeds, goats, possums and mustelids.

It was also planting on river margins and fencing off waterways, wetlands, tussocklands and shrublands. . .

Lange and his ex-wife bought Motatapu Station with the approval of the last Labour government.  Something current leader David Cunliffe is turning his back on and says wouldn’t happen again under his watch.

Lange’s is an extraordinarily generous gift to New Zealand and the world.

It wouldn’t have been possible had the policies Labour and the other parties on the left had been in force then.

It won’t be possible if they enact their policies even though the economic and environmental benefits from it can’t be questioned.

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