South Island high country set for shake-up as controversial tenure review policy axed

South Island high country farmers have been left disappointed and disheartened by a Government proposal to shake up the Crown land leasing rules.

It comes after the axing of the controversial tenure review policy that allowed Crown farm land to be sold as long as a portion was reserved for conservation purposes.

For decades, Andrew Simpson has played caretaker to a precious slither of the Crown's 1.2 million hectares of land. He spent 16 of those years working through tenure review, which meant it would one day be his.

"It's been a long, arduous process to get the land back to the state it is," he said.

It's a polarising policy, and now the Government is getting rid of it.

"This process of privatisation, of splitting leases into land that's freeholded and land that goes to conservation, is going to stop," Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said.

It follows years of criticism that Crown land ultimately ends up in the hands of property developers, the super wealthy or being used for intensive farming.

On Sunday, having already made the decision, tenure review is ending.

Minister Sage has launched a public consultation period on how best to manage the implications, but Federated Mountain Clubs President Peter Wilson said the Government rushed the decision.

"We have to look hard at the financial viability of a lot of the high country properties in the absence of tenure review," he said.

The land demands a lot of work - and with the incentive taken away from farmers, he asks who's going to do it.

"Farmers have put, in some cases, 70 to hundreds of years into those properties. Now I know people disagree with whether they're doing a good job or not, but no one can deny a high country farmer's commitment to the property."

As part of the proposed changes, lease holders would have to publicly declare what they want to achieve on the land - and environmental experts would be consulted before consents were issued.

"Most of the high country farmers I know are really passionate about their land, and the conservation values on the land," Mr Simpson said.

Minister Sage is arguing we need to look after our iconic landscapes - a disappointing sentiment for families like the Simpsons, who say they've been doing just that on behalf of New Zealanders for generations.