Controversial tenure review leaves devastating legacy for South Island environment - researchers

LAKE ALEXANDRINA, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 15: A general view from Mount John on December 15, 2012 in the Mackenzie Country of the South Island High Country of New Zealand. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Despite being scrapped on Thursday, environmentalists say the controversial tenure review has already left a devastating legacy for the South Island's high country.

On Thursday, Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage announced the tenure review process, where Crown pastoral land can be sold to a leaseholder in return for some being made into conservation land, would end in the South Island high country.

The process has been controversial for the amount of land given to intensive farming, which Ms Sage said has "contributed to major landscape change and loss of habitat for native plants and animals".

But Landcare researcher Susan Walker told Newshub New Zealand's environment had already been damaged and native species were worse off.

"The rivers, the scrublands, the grasslands, cushion fields, herb fields, those sorts of things are rarer and much more threatened," she said,

"It has changed not only the visual landscape, but really changed the amount of habitat that is available for native species."

Ms Walker said the process, which has seen more than 350,000 hectares of land put into freehold, had always gone against the Government's ecological goals.

"It's actually exacerbating the problems they are committed to mitigating."

Fish and Game also welcomed the move, but said it the process had cost New Zealanders "dearly".

"The result [of the tenure review] has been Kiwis locked out of enjoying their own outdoors because provisions for public access were woefully inadequate," said chief executive Martin Taylor.

"The Government's decision recognises that outdoor recreation, conservation and public access are of vital interest to the public."

Ms Sage said it wasn't clear if taxpayers were getting good value for money from the sale of the land and she wanted to ensure the remaining pastoral land was safeguarded.

American billionaire Peter Thiel was among those who bought high-country land that had been leased by the Crown.

The 171 Crown pastoral land lease properties, covering 1.2 million hectares, will be managed under the Crown's pastoral land regulatory system, with an announcement about that management to be made on Sunday.

Ending tenure review will require changing the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998.