By Ric Cullinane & Geoff Holgate, Walking Access Commission
Kiwi farmers have a well-deserved reputation for sharing their land with walkers, hunters and anglers. Farmers care about the land they look after. They know how special it is, not just to their family but to all New Zealanders. Many of them take great satisfaction in sharing access to their land with other Kiwi outdoors people.
For the most part, this relationship works well. Farms have not been overrun with Aucklanders stealing the socket set, riding the farm quad and making eyes at the farmer’s daughter. Rather, farmers who share their land report positive outcomes.
People are available to keep an eye on their land. Visitors can support, protect and improve the environment. And there are opportunities to share with more people a better understanding of what farming is.
At the Walking Access Commission Ara Hikoi Aotearoa, we always try to approach farmers with the same honesty and trustworthiness that they show all New Zealanders.
Our role is to promote and support access to the outdoors. Outdoor recreation provides essential benefits to people and communities. It promotes physical and mental health and fitness, it connects us to nature, and it is also fun.
We always advocate for access that is enduring and practical – that means, if it crosses a farm, it needs to be access that the farmer negotiates and agrees with. By working together to share our special environment, we can achieve an outcome that works for everyone.
New Zealand has a long tradition of providing recreational access across pastoral leases. Recently, busier farms and commercial recreation opportunities, along with increased pressure for access, has made providing this harder. However, this access is still immensely valuable – it connects people to our special environment.
It was with this lens that we assessed the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill.
The Bill ignored both the significance of public recreational access across pastoral leases, and the role of the commission. Our submission to Parliament emphasised both.
Often there is already public access routes on pastoral leases – most commonly marginal strips, unformed legal roads, and access easements. Any extra public access needs to be by agreement.
Our submission did not promote the arbitrary imposition of public access. We promoted that the law should value recreational access, and the societal benefits that it provides. When a lease is renewed or when a lessee seeks the Commissioner of Crown Land’s written consent to undertake any activity that consent is required for, the law should take recreational access into account. We proposed that the Commissioner retains the ability to consider matters affecting recreational access and to consult us on these matters.
We know that farmers often need to limit public access to mitigate adverse impacts on their farming operation and the environment. We can manage public access by regulating the types of activities, the time of year that people can access land, when they can access the land and the number of people who can access the land. For example, we can create a permit system for vehicle access. Or we can close tracks on farms during lambing season.
We want the Commissioner of Crown Land to involve us in conversations with lessees. We may be able to argue for a more formal and obvious route across the land which would be easier to maintain and would reduce the more scattered impact from the existing access. Or we may be able to find a more sensible public route with less impact on the farming operation than an existing unformed legal road.
Our Regional Field Advisors are also available at any time to discuss public access with lessees. They can help find solutions that work for farmers and for people enjoying the outdoors. We know the respect and care farmers show for their land, and the pride they take in sharing their land with other New Zealanders.
That’s the reason we want recreational values to be protected in the Crown Pastoral Reform Bill. It’s the reason we think our position will be good for farmers and other New Zealanders collectively, and it’s the reason we hope you can continue to respect and trust the honest work we do.