Forty years of covenants 'the right thing to do'

CELEBRATING 40 YEARS: From left are Waimata River valley farmers Carol and Steve Ring, who have a six-acre covenanted area of native bush, QEII National Trust chair James Guild, and Dame Anne and Jeremy Salmond, trustees of the Longbush Ecological Trust, which has three covenants. Picture by Liam Clayton
PUBLIC ACCESS: The area shown in the photo is part of a 25ha covenant at Tuahine Point, between Wainui and Sponge Bay. Three contiguous covenants cover 34ha on Tuahine Point, wrapping around the coast to Sponge Bay, one of several covenanted areas in Gisborne with public access. Picture by Malcolm Rutherford

FORTY years ago, a priority for the Robert Muldoon-led government was transforming swathes of New Zealand native bush into “productive” land, including for farming and forestry.

“Landowners were being encouraged to clear bush,” QEII National Trust chair James Guild said.

“It took some pretty adventurous, forward-thinking farmers to say we need to start protecting what we have, and need a mechanism to do that.”

That mechanism became an independent statutory organisation and registered charity, set up in 1977 to “encourage and promote, for the benefit of New Zealand, the provision, protection, preservation and enhancement of open space”.

Gordon and Celia Stephenson registered the first open space covenant with the trust in 1979.

Now close to 190,000 hectares, covering an area larger than Stewart Island, are under about 4500 covenants.

This month, QEII put on a celebration at Waikereru Ecosanctuary (formerly Longbush Ecosanctuary) in the Waiamata River valley, as part its 40th anniversary, to recognise Gisborne’s 149 approved covenants, which cover nearly 5000 hectares.

QEII does not own the land, rather it acts as the perpetual trustee to ensure the covenant remains protected forever.

Its core role is to help private landowners in New Zealand, which hold 70 percent of the land, permanently protect special natural and cultural features on their land with open space covenants.

A study found landowners have made an overall financial commitment of up to $1.3 billion, including lost development value, over the past 40 years.

Work done by those landowners to maintain native species and environments was calculated to about $25 million a year.

“It is a mechanism that works,” Mr Guild said.

“Around the world, conservation is largely driven by incentives and tax breaks, but here it is driven by a large amount of landowners doing it, as the late Gordon Stephenson said, ‘Because it is the right thing to do’.

“It is a formula that works. Each year we have more people wanting covenants than we are capable of processing.

“People say they want to do this because they know it is going to stay.”

Selwyn River in Canterbury

Mr Guild became QEII chair in 2011 and has a covenant on his own farm at the headwaters of the Selwyn River in Canterbury.

Part of the trust’s increasing popularity was that landowners were increasingly taking a land management/stewardship approach, he said.

“People are seeing a need for balance between being productive and looking after what we have.”

There have been a few examples where QEII has taken court action to protect covenants.

“It is important for people to know we will go to court to protect covenants,” Mr Guild said.

While the trust’s work was well-known in rural New Zealand, a challenge was becoming more known in metropolitan areas.

“Improving biodiversity, biosecurity, clean water, facing the challenges of global warming — they are not going to happen unless all of New Zealand is involved, and private landowners are a big part of that.

“Our role is facilitator, working with landowners and regulators.

“From where we sit, farmers are doing a hell of a good job. Connectivity down rivers and riparian planting is happening on a much bigger scale than is appreciated.

“I live at the headwaters of the Selwyn River in Canterbury, one of the most critiqued and maligned around, and I have an entirely different perspective than much of the commentary out there.

“The more farmers and landowners can feel they are not cuffed around the ears, the better results we can get.

“We need to get some goodwill behind a national strategic direction, without finger pointing, and involve the good science and technology that is coming out.

“It is all very well to say DoC looks after 30 percent of New Zealand, but we say another 70 percent needs looking after as well, and it is up to land owners, and also urban New Zealand to say we can help out here too.”

Severe ecological threat

When Dame Anne Salmond and her husband Jeremy purchased 120 hectares of land at Waikereru in the Waimata River valley in 2000, much of it was under severe ecological threat.

Cattle grazed the hills and riverside bush, the forest floor was barren and people had dumped garden waste, rubbish and even cars in the gullies or beside the river.

Seventeen years later, the hills are flourishing in native bush, sprouted by the seeds spread by the now abundant native birdlife and assisted by intensive weed and predator control.

The land encompasses three QEII covenants, and is managed by the Longbush Ecological Trust, involving a wide range of people.

The land was purchased after a chance visit to Longbush, an area with fond memories for Gisborne-born Dame Anne.

“We used to go there for picnics as kids and swim in the swimming holes, like a lot of Gisborne kids.”

First they covenanted the 11ha Longbush area, then about 100ha of hills, and finally around the Welcome Shelter and 1769 Garden developed since last year.

“QEII was so important, as I am not sure we would have had the courage to put up those first few fences.

“It has been such a joy, seeing native orchids coming up, kereru breeding in larger numbers every year, the way the undergrowth has come back.

“And now seeing people come and enjoy it.”

Waikereru is one of several covenanted areas in the Waimata valley, including a six-acre area of remnant native bush on Carol and Steve Ring’s farm.

The couple run White Rose Organics on a 180-acre station in the Waimata Valley.

While they inherited the covenanted area, they would not change it, even if they could.

“It is a special place,” Ms Ring said.

“There are not many areas of natural bush like it left, and for the trees to be able die and come back and do their own thing, grow from their own seed, is as it should be.

“QEII staff have been really helpful. (Local representative) Malcolm comes around about twice a year, and assists with traps and fencing, and also teaches about the flora and fauna.”

East Coast QEII representative


Malcolm Rutherford is the QEII representative for the area from Mohaka River up to the East Cape.

“A lot of the covenants on the East Coast are lowland, and are extra special areas with a higher biodiversity than would be expected in bigger reserves.”

The covenants include sand dunes, cliff faces, wetlands, areas of bush and cultural heritage sites.

They play host to many native birds, including weka, kiwi, rifleman, whitehead, white-faced petrel, gannet, tuatara and a range of rare plant species.

The biggest problems on the East Coast are deer and goats, which destroy the understory of forested areas, preventing long-term growth.

The Stephenson Fund for Covenant Enhancement, which provides $150,000 a year, assists covenants with weeding and pest-trapping.

While covenants are generally not public, sites with public access in Gisborne include Longbush, Tuahine Point, parts of the Te Kuri Track, Sisterson Lagoon, parts of Te Wherowhero lagoon, Pouawa Sand Dunes, Eastwood Hill and Hackfalls Arboretum.

Public access can be also be arranged at Te Kuri a Paoa (Young Nick’s head) and Waterworks Bush.

FORTY years ago, a priority for the Robert Muldoon-led government was transforming swathes of New Zealand native bush into “productive” land, including for farming and forestry.

“Landowners were being encouraged to clear bush,” QEII National Trust chair James Guild said.

“It took some pretty adventurous, forward-thinking farmers to say we need to start protecting what we have, and need a mechanism to do that.”

That mechanism became an independent statutory organisation and registered charity, set up in 1977 to “encourage and promote, for the benefit of New Zealand, the provision, protection, preservation and enhancement of open space”.

Gordon and Celia Stephenson registered the first open space covenant with the trust in 1979.

Now close to 190,000 hectares, covering an area larger than Stewart Island, are under about 4500 covenants.

This month, QEII put on a celebration at Waikereru Ecosanctuary (formerly Longbush Ecosanctuary) in the Waiamata River valley, as part its 40th anniversary, to recognise Gisborne’s 149 approved covenants, which cover nearly 5000 hectares.

QEII does not own the land, rather it acts as the perpetual trustee to ensure the covenant remains protected forever.

Its core role is to help private landowners in New Zealand, which hold 70 percent of the land, permanently protect special natural and cultural features on their land with open space covenants.

A study found landowners have made an overall financial commitment of up to $1.3 billion, including lost development value, over the past 40 years.

Work done by those landowners to maintain native species and environments was calculated to about $25 million a year.

“It is a mechanism that works,” Mr Guild said.

“Around the world, conservation is largely driven by incentives and tax breaks, but here it is driven by a large amount of landowners doing it, as the late Gordon Stephenson said, ‘Because it is the right thing to do’.

“It is a formula that works. Each year we have more people wanting covenants than we are capable of processing.

“People say they want to do this because they know it is going to stay.”

Selwyn River in Canterbury

Mr Guild became QEII chair in 2011 and has a covenant on his own farm at the headwaters of the Selwyn River in Canterbury.

Part of the trust’s increasing popularity was that landowners were increasingly taking a land management/stewardship approach, he said.

“People are seeing a need for balance between being productive and looking after what we have.”

There have been a few examples where QEII has taken court action to protect covenants.

“It is important for people to know we will go to court to protect covenants,” Mr Guild said.

While the trust’s work was well-known in rural New Zealand, a challenge was becoming more known in metropolitan areas.

“Improving biodiversity, biosecurity, clean water, facing the challenges of global warming — they are not going to happen unless all of New Zealand is involved, and private landowners are a big part of that.

“Our role is facilitator, working with landowners and regulators.

“From where we sit, farmers are doing a hell of a good job. Connectivity down rivers and riparian planting is happening on a much bigger scale than is appreciated.

“I live at the headwaters of the Selwyn River in Canterbury, one of the most critiqued and maligned around, and I have an entirely different perspective than much of the commentary out there.

“The more farmers and landowners can feel they are not cuffed around the ears, the better results we can get.

“We need to get some goodwill behind a national strategic direction, without finger pointing, and involve the good science and technology that is coming out.

“It is all very well to say DoC looks after 30 percent of New Zealand, but we say another 70 percent needs looking after as well, and it is up to land owners, and also urban New Zealand to say we can help out here too.”

Severe ecological threat

When Dame Anne Salmond and her husband Jeremy purchased 120 hectares of land at Waikereru in the Waimata River valley in 2000, much of it was under severe ecological threat.

Cattle grazed the hills and riverside bush, the forest floor was barren and people had dumped garden waste, rubbish and even cars in the gullies or beside the river.

Seventeen years later, the hills are flourishing in native bush, sprouted by the seeds spread by the now abundant native birdlife and assisted by intensive weed and predator control.

The land encompasses three QEII covenants, and is managed by the Longbush Ecological Trust, involving a wide range of people.

The land was purchased after a chance visit to Longbush, an area with fond memories for Gisborne-born Dame Anne.

“We used to go there for picnics as kids and swim in the swimming holes, like a lot of Gisborne kids.”

First they covenanted the 11ha Longbush area, then about 100ha of hills, and finally around the Welcome Shelter and 1769 Garden developed since last year.

“QEII was so important, as I am not sure we would have had the courage to put up those first few fences.

“It has been such a joy, seeing native orchids coming up, kereru breeding in larger numbers every year, the way the undergrowth has come back.

“And now seeing people come and enjoy it.”

Waikereru is one of several covenanted areas in the Waimata valley, including a six-acre area of remnant native bush on Carol and Steve Ring’s farm.

The couple run White Rose Organics on a 180-acre station in the Waimata Valley.

While they inherited the covenanted area, they would not change it, even if they could.

“It is a special place,” Ms Ring said.

“There are not many areas of natural bush like it left, and for the trees to be able die and come back and do their own thing, grow from their own seed, is as it should be.

“QEII staff have been really helpful. (Local representative) Malcolm comes around about twice a year, and assists with traps and fencing, and also teaches about the flora and fauna.”

East Coast QEII representative


Malcolm Rutherford is the QEII representative for the area from Mohaka River up to the East Cape.

“A lot of the covenants on the East Coast are lowland, and are extra special areas with a higher biodiversity than would be expected in bigger reserves.”

The covenants include sand dunes, cliff faces, wetlands, areas of bush and cultural heritage sites.

They play host to many native birds, including weka, kiwi, rifleman, whitehead, white-faced petrel, gannet, tuatara and a range of rare plant species.

The biggest problems on the East Coast are deer and goats, which destroy the understory of forested areas, preventing long-term growth.

The Stephenson Fund for Covenant Enhancement, which provides $150,000 a year, assists covenants with weeding and pest-trapping.

While covenants are generally not public, sites with public access in Gisborne include Longbush, Tuahine Point, parts of the Te Kuri Track, Sisterson Lagoon, parts of Te Wherowhero lagoon, Pouawa Sand Dunes, Eastwood Hill and Hackfalls Arboretum.

Public access can be also be arranged at Te Kuri a Paoa (Young Nick’s head) and Waterworks Bush.

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