By Rhea Dasent, Federated Farmers Senior Policy Advisor
Federated Farmers values and respects heritage and sites of significance to Māori. But like many other public good resources (such as Outstanding Natural Landscapes, Significant Natural Areas), heritage resources are often found on rural land that is actively used for farming. This means we have to balance reasonable use of the land and buildings with the protection of heritage values.
Heritage sites provide a record of past human activity, either everyday life or a historic event, and tell the story of our past. They can be archaeological sites like the Wairau bar near Blenheim, a building like the stone church at Lake Tekapo, or a place where an event happened, such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. These are national examples, and there is a myriad of local heritage sites in every district around the country which District Councils regulate.
Federated Farmers’ submissions to District Plans on heritage and sites of significance to Māori can be grouped into these themes: good accurate identification and mapping; rules that allow farming to continue; and that alternative methods to just rules are used to achieve outcomes.
Feds supports the concept of listing heritage items and sites of significance to Māori in schedules, and mapping. This allows landowners and resource users to clearly see where sites are in relation to their properties and find further information in the schedules.
We need to know what the site is and what makes it special. Wahi tapu is defined in the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 as meaning a place sacred to Māori in the traditional, spiritual, religious, ritual, or mythological sense. This is a wide definition and means that sites listed as wahi tapu might be a specific landscape feature like a rock formation, but could also be the location of a past event like a battleground, or a place of worship. It will be easier for the landowner to farm around the rock formation because they can clearly see it; but harder to work out where the area of the battle or worship site was located, because it won’t be seen on the surface anymore.
Clear and accurate information is vital for the schedules and maps to be fit for purpose. Farmers need this so they can manage their activities around the site to avoid damage, and to avoid non-compliance with rules. Evidence is needed before a site is identified, as the regulatory consequences need to be justified. However Federated Farmers frequently sees mapping and schedule listings that are inaccurate or incomplete.
It is a council’s responsibility to ensure that the identification of special sites in its District Plan are precise and correct. Council tend to rely on landowners lodging submissions to point out where mapping is wrong, but this is unfair on landowners as they may not have that knowledge.
The photo on this page shows a heritage site mapped right in the middle of a paddock, which is wildly inaccurate. The heritage site is actually a marked gravesite located on the council-owned riverside reserve at the bottom of the picture below the road. This poor mapping will result in the farmer being regulated for a site that isn’t actually there, and the actual gravesite misses out on protection it needs. Bad mapping doesn’t do anyone any favours.
As for rules, Federated Farmers wants to see existing uses allowed to continue. Heritage buildings must still be useful and fit for purpose. Existing farming such as grazing and fencing must still be allowed on sites of significance. Especially if the site of significance is more about the location rather than being a physical feature, adverse effects of existing farm activities will be limited.
Being able to maintain and repair farm fencing is vital for farmers. Replacement posts need to be imbedded into the soil at a depth to withstand the strain of taught wires. A fence with a broken post will leak livestock. District Plans need a rule that allows maintenance of existing farm fences and farm tracks around heritage sites and sites of significance.
Grazing is an activity that is already occurring on many sites and will have existing use rights. The Department of Conservation has a guide discusses stock grazing as a method that can be positive for site maintenance, keeping grass short and preventing weeds and shrubs from becoming established. For a pa site, grazing with sheep can keep the fortifications visible and from being covered by manuka.
Cultivation will also be occurring, and this will only disturb the top layer of soil as cultivation done using disks or tines works the top 20-40cm of soil; harrowing or direct drilling methods work the top 5-10cm. If it has already been occurring as part of an existing farm, then it must be allowed to continue. It is likely that effects would have occurred decades ago when mechanical cultivation first appeared in New Zealand, and people were less knowledgeable about sites of significance.
Rules are not the only way to skin a cat, and both farmers and tangata whenua prefer face-to-face relationships over a book of rules when it comes to heritage. But district councils can still play a part by putting people in contact with each other to work out solutions for specific sites, and help pay fees for archaeologists or heritage experts.
As with other mapped items on private property, the permission of the landowner is needed before access can occur. Council maps may give the impression that sites are freely available for the public to visit. However, landowners need to know about people accessing their property so they can highlight hazards, set conditions, postpone or refuse. Federated Farmers knows members that have standing access arrangements to special sites with the local tangata whenua. A District Plan must not compel access.