Over 70% of New Zealand is privately owned, and significant but threatened habitats occur mainly on private land in lowland areas - so if you own any land that is worth protecting, consider protecting it permanently by applying a covenant.

Covenanting land with the help of the QEII trust is becoming more and more common.  There are now over 3,000 registered covenants covering over 100,000 ha, and there are over 500 more covenants in the pipeline.  So New Zealand is a mosaic of parcels of protected land of varying sizes.  As they accumulate there are increasing benefits to the environment.  So even a small remnant is very important in the overall scheme of things.

Various types of land can be covenanted including:

  • native forest remnants
  • wetlands
  • grasslands
  • threatened species habitats
  • sites of cultural and archaeological significance

What exactly is a QEII covenant?

A QEII open space covenant on a specific part of your land is a legally binding protection agreement written into your title deeds that provide permanent protection of that area from damaging change.  Once in place, the covenant binds not only you as the present owner but all subsequent landowners too.

How big does the area have to be?

The area of covenants varies hugely.  The average size is nearly 30 ha but they range in size from a few hectares to 6,500 hectares.

Even if you have only a small area of special land, for example regenerating native bush, it may be eligible if it is relatively rich in flora and fauna.

Does a covenant mean I have to allow public access?

No.  Private property rights are not jeopardized by a covenant.  As a landowner, you retain ownership and management of the land.  Members of the public can access the covenanted land only with the landowner's prior permission.

How do you go about establishing a QEII covenant on your farm?

The process goes like this:

  • Find your local QEII representative  You will find his or her contact details on the www.openspace.org.nz website.
  • Enquiry - Ask your regional representative to visit your property
  • Evaluation - He or she will evaluate your special area against a wide range of criteria including:
    • the type of flora and fauna present
    • the diversity of flora and fauna
    • existing or potential value as an ecological corridor
    • geological features
    • cultural and heritage values
    • sustainability

There will also be practical considerations including management needs, threats to the site, your motivation, and potential sources of funding.

  • Approval  The QEII Trust Board will consider the evaluation, and approve the covenant if it meets the criteria.  You will then be asked to sign a covenant agreement.
  • Fencing  If required, the covenant area will have to be fenced to protect it from stock.
  • Survey  An accurate survey plan or aerial photo diagram of the covenant area will be prepared, which you will need to check and sign.
  • Registration  The covenant will then be formally registered on the title to your land with Land Information New Zealand.  QEII will lodge all the necessary documentation.

What will it cost?

QEII pays for the survey costs in most instances.  You may also be eligible for other funding assistance, including:

  • the cost of fencing the land to prevent access by livestock
  • any weed and pest control needed
  • rates relief on the area of land under a covenant
  • restoration planting

Monitoring covenants

A QEII representative will visit your covenant every second year to monitor its condition and to provide any advice and support you need.  So far the majority of covenants have not only met the terms and conditions required but exceeded them.

There can be different management areas within a covenant with varying conditions applying.  Conditions can be stringent where rare or vulnerable natural features or habitats are being protected.

What's in it for you as a landowner?

Protecting natural features makes good land management sense because:

  • Forest remnants can provide shelter and shade for livestock (even when they are fenced off).
  • Forest remnants can help greatly in preventing slips and soil erosion.
  • Covenants help bring back birdsong and the seasonal flowers and fruit of our native flora.
  • Healthy landscapes where productive land uses co-exist with natural systems beautify and add economic value to farm properties.
  • Bush and wetlands help filter rain and runoff, thereby improving water quality and encouraging nutrients to recycle.
  • Fencing off natural areas can help to protect stream banks and can keep stock out of hard-to-manage areas.
  • Fencing off bushy gullies and swampy areas can help prevent accidents and native plant poisoning in livestock.

The information presented in this article was sourced largely from the QEII website - www.openspace.org.nz