Latitude Magazine

Lock Up and Leave


The Canterbury High Country’s landscape is more than just the mountains and the sky. It holds embossed stories of long family heritage and history of stewardshi­p with the environmen­t. Sarah Perriam learns more about the threat to inter-generation­al connection to the high country’s future with Philip Todhunter of Lake Heron Station.

has been a stoush of new regulation­s and proposed changes, destined to have long-term implicatio­ns for farming in the Canterbury High Country.

The irony is it could be counterint­uitive to the intention to lock up and leave to nature.

Early 2019, the Minister of Land Informatio­n and also Conservati­on, Green Party MP Eugenie Sage asked for submission­s on the Enduring Stewardshi­p of Crown Pastoral Land which includes the decision to end tenure review. Tenure review is a voluntary process where the government reviews the land held in a pastoral lease and provides freehold tenure to the more intensivel­y farmed part of a property and transfers the balance of the farm to the Conservati­on Estate. A pastoral lease is a lease in perpetuity (forever) which enables farmers to graze Crown pastoral land in 1.2 million hectares of land in the South Island. These leases came into force in 1948 to provide absolute security and to provide incentive for farmers to better manage the land.

‘If these changes are brought into law, farmers and the Commission­er of Crown Lands will be strangled in red tape and environmen­tal outcomes will go backwards,’ explains Chair of the High Country Accord Trust, Philip Todhunter.

Fourth-generation high country land-owner at Lake

Heron Station, Philip and his wife Anne have been farming merinos on nearly 20,000 hectares with their family since taking over the property and the legacy that has been with the Todhunter family since 1917.

We live in an area with high natural beauty and while we are not a national park, we do have lots of conservati­on values which we’re incredibly proud of. The stewardshi­p role of farmers working Crown pastoral land, particular­ly our responsibi­lities for weed and pest control, is at the centre of our current contract with the Crown,’ explains Philip.

I worked in rural real estate in Central Otago in the mid2000s when Prime Minister Helen Clark went around New Zealand buying up high country stations for the Department of Conservati­on and throwing away the key. I have personally seen what has happened to the environmen­t since grazing livestock was removed and the indigenous biodiversi­ty intended to protect has led to a pest management problem.

‘ There are many examples in the Mackenzie Basin, certainly the lower Ben Ohau region where light grazing has been removed and the wilding conifer spread is out of control and it has become a massive cost to the taxpayer,’ continues Philip. ‘Fortunatel­y, there’s a lot of money going towards it now to control it. But if the sheep grazing had been maintained, then the problem would not be the same. Also,

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