After lengthy secret negotiations, the Department of Conservation yesterday announced the Nature Heritage Fund had spent $935,000 on 164ha of Contact Energy land near the Luggate Red Bridge to add to the public conservation estate.
Emeritus professor of botany Sir Alan Mark, of Dunedin, welcomed the purchase as significant but questioned whether taxpayers should have had to pay that much.
"The sum involved of $935,000 sounds a lot to me.
"That must be current land valuations . . .
"The end result is good but the means still leaves a lot to be required," Mark said.
Many other people signed an open letter to Contact Energy recently, suggesting that, among other things, it could discount the purchase price because of the substantial profits the company had made from electricity developments on the Clutha River.
The announcement was still pleasing and he was surprised it had not been made by the minister of conservation before the election.
"It is certainly quite a significant area and there are no doubts it has very high conservation values," he said.
DOC's Wanaka conservation services manager Chris Sydney said getting the land was a great outcome for conservation.
"The Upper Clutha Basin is recognised as an outstanding natural landscape with biodiversity features of national, regional and local importance," Sydney said.
The Nature Heritage Fund purchase was for some but not all of the properties Contact Energy decided in 2012 it no longer required for dam building. Some sites have significant historical or recreational value while others have important biodiversity values.
Sydney said the combined values of the land meant they were considered to be of national importance.
The properties provided river access and included significant river terraces and dryland vegetation.
Eight threatened and uncommon plant species and several historical features were contained on the land.
The sites also had high strategic value next to marginal strips along the Clutha/ Mata-Au River, Sydney said.
The Nature Heritage Fund is a contestable ministerial fund that seeks to protect New Zealand ecosystems.
It has received 1352 applications since its inception in 1990, protecting 340,780 hectares of indigenous ecosystems.
It has spent $158.45 million so far (about $465 per hectare).
Source: 2013 DOC annual report
Where: 13km east of Wanaka, on the true left of the Clutha River.
What is protected: goldmining archaeological sites, dry-land terrace vegetation, and a "national critical"ecosystem.
Endangered plants include: Annual forget-me-not (Myosotis brevis, status – nationally vulnerable), mousetail (Myosurus minimus ssp novae-zelandiae, status – nationally endangered), Olearia lineata (status – declining), and Cushion pimelea (Pimelea sericeovillosa ssp pulvinaris, status – declining).
- The Southland Times
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