Knowledge key to future of station in high country

For Balmoral Station owner Andrew Simpson knowledge is key to making the best decisions for the future.

''If you don't have answers you can't plan your future''You have to know as much as you can, to understand things, to be able to make clever decisions.''

Over the years the Simpsons have welcomed scientists and researchers of all persuasions on to the unique property.

Balmoral was home to the oldest agricultural trial site in the country, forestry crown research institute Scion had been conducting trials on the property for the past 20 years and this included New Zealand's biggest dryland forestry trial, he said.

There were ''trials within trials ... bird counts, soil enhancement, water yield ...''

.This evidence-based approach to management underpins the Simpsons significant contribution to conservation.

In 2005, faced with tenure review options which would have been unsustainable, they embarked on a unique approach.

The Government wanted to reclaim 2800ha - more than 40% of the Simpson's leasehold, for the conservation estate, Mr Simpson said.

They decided to enlist the help of scientists and the QEII National Trust and investigate.

The outcome was 400ha were deemed to have significant ''conservation values''.

An independent trust board of scientists and ecologists, together with the Simpsons and fellow high country farmer Ben Albury, was set up to manage conservation on the property.

The trust board was first charged with identifying those values that needed protection, Mr Simpson said.

''We have 180ha set aside as a benchmark area.

''That has 360 vegetation plots [which have been] described, photographed and GPSed.

''There are another 180 plots on the rest of the property, as benchmarks, so they can see whether or not the farming practices are sustainable.''

''We also have seven water quality monitoring sites on the streams on the property.''

The outcome of the trust's work to date was testament to the fact community ownership of areas which needed conservation protection could work just as well as full Crown ownership and control, Mr Simpson said.