Private property is private regardless of size

Increasing numbers of visitors are increasing problems for landowners who may restrict or refuse access.

This was one of the issue identified by Walking Access Commission Ara Hīkoi Aotearoa in the South Island High Country Access Report.

One landholder, who has a popular walkway that crosses his property, spoke of the numbers of people increasing from approximately 30,000 per year in 2013 to an expected 70-100,000 people in 2017.

While most private landholders, the Department of Conservation and local authorities all agreed that the percentage of poorly behaved visitors wasn’t getting worse, the number increases mean the impact of poor behaviour is still growing.

One noted issue was the impact of the internet making it harder to predict which walks/areas will become popular – one viral Instagram post or YouTube video can result in thousands more people coming to a place previously only known to locals.

Increased numbers and unpredictability are also making landholders warier of opening new access points. A farmer happy to have a track with 1000 people per year might be less willing to do so if they are fearful they will instead have 20,000 people per year.

With more people you get more problems with people who don’t understand outdoor etiquette – leave gates as you find them, don’t disturb stock, take only photos, leave only footprints. . .

Friends have a musterers’ hut near a walking trail. Trampers found the key, went into the hut, turned on the gas, used it and left it on, left rubbish then posted where to find the key on social media.

Many interviewees pointed out that numbersin themselves are not necessarily a bad thing, but rather it is the unpredictability and thelack of control over where people go that can cause problems. Positives of increased numbers include more money owing into regions, and more opportunities for farmers to diversify their income streams to help subsidise bad years in their core operation – such as accommodation on trails, concessions for guided tours, and more. . . 

The lack of appropriate infrastructure to go along with tracks and trails was noted repeatedly, in particular a lack of toileting facilities and the impact that has on the environment. . . 

Who pays for the infrastructure and attends to its upkeep? Landowners who get no return for access don’t want to, nor do councils with small rating bases when most of the visitors aren’t ratepayers.

The report looks at the different wants of cyclists, mountain bikers, day walkers, trampers, horse riders, hunters and fishers and then summerises:

A focus on public access, and the associated infrastructure, is necessary to ensure that locals and domestic tourists can experience and enjoy New Zealand’s great outdoors, and that tourists have a positive experience that turns them into ambassadors for our tourism industry. As well as economic development opportunities, easy and  enjoyable public access opportunities can benefit public health through increased exercise and active transport methods. 

In order to achieve the full benefits, the areas that need to be addressed are:

Numbers
Create new access opportunities through the area, with a focus on opportunities that will prove attractive to people currently using tracks and trails that are over or near capacity. Also focus on activities that are currently under catered for, such as horseriding. 

Pilot new methods of digital and other communication to help direct tourist traffic to areas that have capacity, and away from areas that are over capacity.

Find solutions to manage access, in particular on working farms and in sensitive conservation areas, to ensure negative impact is minimised.

Infrastructure
New funding streams, in particular for lowratepayer base councils, to enable central and local government agencies to build appropriate public access infrastructure such as toilets and carparks.

Clarify who is responsible for access infrastructure where private landholders have gifted secure access, and on tracks and trails that cross multiple land tenure types.

Explore funding options for ‘less sexy’ maintenance and infrastructure that volunteer groups currently find it difficult to fundraise for.

Collect better data that allows for more reliable future modelling, so infrastructure can be built ahead of or alongside increasing demand, rather than always playing catch-up.

Information
Creation of a single, trustworthy digital source of information on where people can go in the outdoors and what they can do there, regardless of land ownership.

Integration of safety information where necessary in this information source.

Behaviour
Funding to address systemic behaviour issues, such as rubbish bins, multi-lingual signage etc.

Explore resources targeted at international tourists on appropriate behaviour – perhaps in conjunction with airlines or rental car companies.

A focus on education at a school and university level to teach people about how to behave in the outdoors from a young age so it stays with them for life.

Connections
Coordination between agencies to do landscape level planning for tracks and trails, to connect existing ones to each other, to local amenities and to population centres, with the authority to work alongside the Department of Conservation, local government, iwi and community groups to coordinate planning and activities.

A role for this agency in Tenure Review and Overseas Investment Act processes, as key ways of creating new access.

That is all very reasonable but overlooks one very important fact.

Private property is private property regardless of size.

No-one would expect open access for recreation on a small private section in town but some don’t understand they aren’t entitled to do that on bigger properties in the country.

Rural landowners has the exact same right to quiet enjoyment of their properties and the exact same rights to allow, restrict or refuse access as urban property owners.

That many are becoming increasingly less open to public access isn’t helped by politically anti-farmer rants like this from Fish and Game although it is calling for curbs on tourism numbers in the high country.

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