Trust acquiring arms and legs to get busy

The Mackenzie Country Trust will hire a general manager this year to start the work required to...
The Mackenzie Country Trust will hire a general manager this year to start the work required to protect the lowland intermontane dryland environment and landscapes of the Mackenzie Country, chairwoman Claire Barlow says. Photo: Hamish MacLean
The trust formed to protect the "extremely iconic and valuable" land in the Ohau, Mackenzie and Omarama basins is ready to put boots on the ground, its chairwoman says.

Mackenzie Country Trust chairwoman Claire Barlow said the trust, formed in February last year after talks began in 2010, would hire its first employee this year.

The goal of the trust, described in a strategic framework document published at the beginning of this year, is to ensure "the intermontane landscape of the Mackenzie Country retains its natural functioning ecosystems alongside a flourishing and sustainable community".

It received its first funding from the Department of Conservation, Ministry for the Environment and Blue Lake Investments and soon the trust’s general manager would be the "hands and feet of the trust", Mrs Barlow said.

Claire Barlow.
Claire Barlow.
"That means visiting farmers on the ground and talking to farmers and discussing entering into ... ‘joint management agreements’ with farmers," she said.

"The farmers are on board, but what’s happened is because it has taken so long ... people get a bit disillusioned."

Based on the 2013 Mackenzie Agreement — signed by 22 organisations with a stake in the 269,000ha of land the trust covers — the trust would enter an agreement with private landowners to set aside areas of land for conservation purposes "and for their loss of income ... hopefully we can put some money behind it".

"Our focus is on working on the rest of New Zealand to say, ‘Look, you value this, how much do you value it, will you support the work of the trust?’ And then the trust seeks a partnership with the farmers to come to agreement on protecting [the land]," Mrs Barlow said.

At the time the Mackenzie Agreement was signed four years ago, the Otago Daily Times reported up to $3.7million a year could be needed from a mixture of funding sources to meet the cost of protecting significant areas.

However, the trust now had $200,000 in four $50,000 "tranches" to work with, Mrs Barlow said.

The trust was initially working towards signing up a general manager for a 12-month contract to begin the work of pulling together "all of the data that’s available" to identify those parcels of land that are the most valuable and worthy of protection.

In 2013, only 5% of the land below 800m in the trust’s area was under any form of protection as either conservation land or by means of a covenant.

Rather than set a target as to how much land ought to be protected in the Mackenzie Country, the trust would deal with the area’s outstanding landscape and biodiversity values on a property-by-property basis.

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