Thirty years ago, the Labour government of the day sent
groups of scientists off on a mission. They were asked to
find the parts of the landscape that still reflected the way
New Zealand was before people began making changes. One of
the Recommended Areas for Protection (RAPs) they came up with
was a 590ha area of land above the Clutha River at South
Hawea Flat, near Wanaka. Last month that RAP went under the
plough. Mark Price reports.
On the road between Luggate and Hawea Flat your eye is
drawn west to the majestic snow-capped mountains of Mt
Aspiring National Park.
The flat land in the foreground barely registers.
But this land - 590ha of half-cultivated dry grass and
tussock along Kane Rd - has suddenly become a battleground
between conservationists and farmers.
Two months ago, a digger began dragging kanuka, scrub and the
odd pine tree into heaps.
Two weeks ago, a tractor towing a chunky set of discs started
turning over the topsoil.
By the time the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society
obtained an Environment Court enforcement order on Monday,
the agricultural contractor had already left the field.
However, the order means the farmer cannot seed, water or
fertilise the land until the matter has been settled in
Conservationists know the land in question as South Hawea
Flat, Lindis RAP (A12) - RAP standing for Recommended Area
Correspondence between Forest and Bird and the Queenstown
Lakes District Council over the farmer's cultivation has
focused on the rarity of the land's native plants.
But the man who helped establish Lindis RAP (A12) and other
RAPs in the Upper Clutha emphasises there is more to the
Now retired from the Department of Conservation and living in
Gisborne, Dr Chris Ward told the Otago Daily Times last week
Lindis RAP (A12) was recommended for protection 30 years ago
because it represented a landscape that was in danger of
''The essence of the value of places like this is not simply
the rare species.
''It's actually about having the whole system of the landform
and the ecological and geological history of the land and the
soils and the vegetation that goes with the whole system.
''It reflects a large proportion of the character of the
Dr Ward said when they started looking for places still in
their native state, they already had ''very little to start
''The whole context was to identify the best of what remained
and then seek its protection rather than see everything
degraded to minuscule remnants. These areas - whatever their
degree of modification - they still had very high natural
Dr Ward said Lindis RAP (A12) combined the high terrace of
Hawea Flat and the drop-off to a set of low terraces leading
to the Clutha River.
''The whole point of it was that it was very much undeveloped
in the pastoral sense and had large amounts of its indigenous
character - though obviously highly modified through grazing
The report he helped produce noted the area's ''excellent
''The total extent of the RAP, although considerable, is
little more than 1% of the original extent of terrace
landforms dominated by fescue tussockland and shrubland in
the Upper Clutha, and barely sufficient to give an adequate
visual impression of the earlier landscape.''
While its vegetation had been ''strongly modified'' by
grazing and fire, the report described what remained as
''substantially native communities''.
The report suggested the reasons the land had not been
developed further were because the soils were ''among the
poorest of the flatlands'' and irrigation water was
Reflecting on the many RAPs he helped identify in the 1980s,
Dr Ward said there had been ''more grief than satisfaction''
over how they had fared.
While some had been formally protected, many had not.
''It's the old problem that every success in conservation is
temporary and every loss is permanent.''
''When an area is protected, or a decision is made not to
destroy something, it can be seen as a victory or a gain for
conservation. But it's always temporary because these things
can be reversed.
Dr Ward said the cultivation of Lindis RAP (A12) was another
of the losses in a world system with a bias against
''What's left of the natural scheme of things is always being
whittled away, and every generation seems to take another
chunk of it.
''I'm sure there will be people who will say there was an
awful lot of this [Upper Clutha land]. But if every
generation takes 60% of what's remaining and leaves 40%,
thinking that's being generous, then that becomes two-thirds
of five-eighths of [not much].''
Revealing his geological background, Dr Ward said a ''key
part'' of the value of an area like Lindis RAP (A12) was its
''The discs turning over the soil have already done
irreversible damage. You can't undo that.
''The actual soil profile ... is a reflection of the
geological and human history up until now.
''Getting to the guts of natural character is recognising
that an undisturbed soil is a key part.''
RAPs were a product of the Protected Natural Areas Programme
(PNAP) that began in 1983.
The programme was intended to protect native landscape
features and provide the government with a basis for
negotiation with landowners about formal protection.
It was controversial at the time, with some landowners
refusing survey parties access, believing they could lose the
parts of their properties identified as RAPs.
Philip Woollaston, associate minister for the environment
(1987-88) and minister of conservation (1989-90) told the ODT
the surveying ''tapered off'' after the 1980s, for economic
''It was never formally abandoned but just withered on the
branch because of cost-cutting.''
Some RAPs got protection via the tenure review process, and
by other means, but Lindis RAP (A12) was not one of those.
A report done for the QLDC in February last year by ecologist
Rebecca Lawrence did, however, recommend part of the RAP be
''taken forward'' for further consideration as ''significant
indigenous vegetation and fauna habitat''.
That would put Lindis RAP (A12) in the district plan and
would require the landowner to gain resource consent before
carrying out the type of work that has now been done.
Recommended Areas of Protection
The land known as South Hawea Flat, Lindis RAP (A12) is one
of 19 RAPs in section 4 of a 1980s document called the
Lindis, Pisa and Dunstan Ecological Districts Survey Report
for Protected Natural Areas.
The others are:
Double Peak, Chain Hills, Dip Creek (two), Morven Hills,
Grandview Creek, Hospital Creek, Lagoon Creek, East Camp
Creek, West Camp Creek, Long Gully, Long Gully Terrace, Upper
Smiths Creek, North Lindis Pass, Mid Breast Creek, Grandview
Tops, West Chain Hills, Lindis Crossing.
The report also lists RAPs in the Pisa and Dunstan areas.