South Island land gets lifelong protection
A big chunk of South Island high-country land will be protected forever under New Zealand's largest private land protection agreement.
The Queen Elizabeth II National Trust and Soho Property Limited announced this afternoon about 53,000 hectares of land would be protected by covenants.
With this proposal, the total area protected by covenants across New Zealand will grow to more than 178,000ha.
The covenants will protect iconic high country over most of Motatapu, Mount Soho, Glencoe and Coronet Peak stations.
The stations cover a large part of the land between Lake Wanaka and Arrowtown, and are bordered by the Shotover River and the Cardrona Valley - an area equal in size to the combined areas of Abel Tasman and Paparoa national parks.
Soho Property Limited's director is Robert ''Mutt'' Lange - a Zambian-born British record producer and songwriter and the ex-husband of Canadian pop singer Shania Twain.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the covenant would protect a wide variety of ecosystems from wetlands, tussock grasslands, native shrub lands, alpine cushion fields and stunning mountain peaks.
"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."
He said New Zealanders would have greater access to this stunning country and better facilities than ever before, especially as more areas would likely be opened for public access.
"We should judge proposals for overseas ownership of farms on merit rather than simplistic bans that would lose positive initiatives like this."
Smith said this was 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."
National Trust Chair James Guild said it was inspirational to see the commitment and personal investment made by an overseas investor to care for this iconic New Zealand landscape.
''The landholder's selfless gesture goes far beyond any Overseas Investment Office (OIO) requirements,'' he said.
''It protects a vast area of iconic Central Otago landscape and opens up opportunities for the public to get up into the high country and enjoy the unique experiences this sort of environment offers.''
As well as formalising the public access tracks required by the OIO, the landholder and the National Trust are working with the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Queenstown Trails Trust, and local walking and mountain biking groups to create further public access opportunities.
New Zealand Walking Access Commission Chairman John Forbes said formalising existing routes and creating new ones would provide a unique opportunity for locals and overseas tourists to visit a part of New Zealand that boasts spectacular scenery and was rich in history.
Guild emphasised covenanting land was voluntary, and none of the stations were involved in tenure review.
He said Soho Property Limited was investing significant sums to control wilding pines, weeds, goats and possums.
It has major planting programmes on river margins, fenced off waterways, wetlands, tussocklands and shrubland areas.
Soho Property Limited are also working with Ngai Tahu and the Department of Conservation on reintroducing native buff weka to the area and it has retired almost all previously farmed areas with the exception of valley floors that can sustain sheep grazing.
Several rare and endangered native plants and animals, such as the New Zealand falcon, will be protected by the covenant.
Guild said the stations had a rich history with many archaeological sites recorded.
The Motatapu Challenge is held annually across three of the stations, where competitors either mountain bike or run through them. He said anyone using Cardrona, Treble Cone or Coronet Peak skifields would now always be able to overlook protected, unspoiled land.
It is expected the covenants will be formally registered in early 2015, after survey work has been completed and processed by the Commissioner of Crown Lands.
The Commissioner is responsible for administering Crown pastoral leases.