Almost 12,000 hectares of land in Mackenzie Basin given special protection

8:42 am on 5 September 2020

Almost 12,000 hectares of land in the Mackenzie Basin have come under special protection as conservation land.

The Mackenzie basin.

The Mackenzie Basin. Photo: Supplied

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said the 11,800 hectare area is made up of land purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund, land transferred by Land Information to DOC, and land which has come back to full Crown ownership.

She said some of the area was used for agricultural intensification, which has fundamentally changed it.

Sage said the area, to be known as Tū Te Rakiwhānoa Drylands, is the Crown putting its land on the table and working with other land holders to ensure their land is also managed in a way which protects nature.

She said as conservation land, the area is protected for public access and nature is protected.

"These drylands are really different from our native forest. You have a lot of low growing species, tussock, shrublands but its really important habitat for kaki the world's rarest wading bird the black stilt, for the robust grasshopper and a whole lot of really special plants, like the dryland cress.

"So these dryland landscapes are dry, they are very vulnerable to cultivation, to irrigation and destruction of their plant value and then their habitat value for insects and other wildlife."

The area includes 4100 hectares of unoccupied Crown land in the Tasman riverbed, which has been transferred by Land Information NZ to DOC to become conservation land, 1792 hectares at Ōhau Downs purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund from Kees Zeestraten, 3132 hectares of the Simons Pass pastoral lease being restored to full Crown ownership to become conservation land through tenure review and 1,631 hectares of the Twin Peaks pastoral lease also restored to full Crown ownership as a result of tenure review.

She said the land in Simons Pass, Ohau Downs and Twim Peaks has previously been used for farming.

Move welcomed

Forest & Bird is welcoming the moves to prevent more agricultural intensification in the Mackenzie Basin.

Its regional conservation manager Nicky Snoyink said it's a great start, but the government could go even further, by making changes to the Crown Pastoral Land Act to acquire and preserve a larger area.

She said the unique dryland ecosystem, home to rare plant and animal species, cannot be recovered once it is irrigated.

Snoyink said it is at a tipping point, so the government needs to act quickly before opportunities to protect it close forever.

Earlier this week a huge scrub fire near Lake Pukaki in the Mackenzie Country burnt through around 3500 hectares of mostly wilding pines, destroying one property, burning telegraph poles and forcing several households to evacuate.

A dumping of snow and heavy rain on Monday night helped firefighters in their bid to conatin the fire and work is continuing at the scene to ensure any hot spots don't flare up again. It's expected to take months to fully extinguish.

Large fire in Mackenzie District

The fire took hold on Sunday. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

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