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QEII Covenants

Originally published June 2011 in Nelson Marlborough Farming
 
Farmers by the very nature of their profession are environmentalists and as such often recognise
natural features on their land that are significant and have the desire to protect them for future
generations. Often these features are remnants of native bush in deforested areas but can also be a range of natural and cultural features including wetlands and landscape features.
 
One way to ensure ongoing protection for these area is to covenant them, in this way ownership (and control over the land) is maintained, but an obligation to maintain and protect the land in terms of the covenant is placed on current and future land owners. There are a range of options for conservation instruments including covenants with the Department of Conservation or localauthorities. 
 
Another option is an open space covenant with the QEII National Trust. The QEII trust's core activity is to secure long-term protection of natural and cultural features on private land, usually by the legal mechanism of an open space covenant.
 
The way it works is that a land owner contacts their local QEII representative who evaluates the special area against criteria which include ecological and biodiversity values, geological features, cultural and heritage values. The QEII Trust Board will then consider the evaluation, and if approved the next step is to fence the covenant area where this is necessary to keep stock out.
 
Some funding may be available from the QEII trust, local authorities may also be convinced to contribute. For example the TDC will sometimes contribute if one or more of the covenant boundaries follows a water course under its river protection and maintenance program. Other councils will look at requests on case by case basis.
 
The next step is for the QEII trust to arrange for a survey and lodge a plan of the covenant area with land Information NZ. The covenant will then be formally registered on the title. These survey and legal costs are borne by the QEII trust. The land remains in your ownership, your private property rights are not jeopardised, subject to the agreed covenant terms and conditions. The landowner continues to control access to the covenanted area.
 
Once the land is covenanted you will be expected to maintain the fencing and undertake ongoing
management such as species management, pest control and restoration as agreed in terms of the
covenant. A local QEII Representative visits each covenant every second year to monitor its condition. This isn't as onerous as it sounds and the QEII trust view this as an opportunity to "share pleasure in observing positive change, discuss any worries and work out together the best way of managing the covenant".
 
What is the downside of a QEII covenant? I suppose that it is the perception that somehow you are losing control of part of your land, and that its value might be affected. I would be the first to admit that a QEII covenant is not for everyone. I think that for the type of person who would consider a QEII covenant the management that would be required under the covenant would not be too dissimilar to what they are currently doing, or at least what they would like to see done. Also under most district plans it can be difficult to do much, other than preserve them, with many of these areas anyway. The attraction of a QEII covenant is their longevity in that any conservation work done now will be continued by future owners and not destroyed.
 
The QEII trust has a very good website with further information at openspace.org.nz
 
This article was prepared by John Cotton specialized in rural surveys.

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