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Rural Insight: Covenants offer option to protect farm bush

Tags: Rural Rural Insight

As farms come under pressure to fence off more waterways farm covenants are providing one means to achieve that while also adding to the property’s aesthetic and sometimes capital value.

By far the most popular option for farmers seeking to protect ecologically significant land is the Queen Elizabeth National Trust which now claims over 180,000ha of voluntarily protected land across the country, almost the equivalent area to Stewart Island.

QEII acting chief executive Paul Kirby says interest from farmers and landowners in placing covenants on their properties is stronger than ever. The organisation is busy placing 120-150 covenants a year on areas of land, with 4,300 covenants now registered with it.

“There is also a wide variety of landscapes landowners may want to protect. It can be bush, but also archaeological sites including old Pa sites, coastal areas and even bird habitats.”

Long-time Waikato farmer and conservationist Bill Garland is a leading light for farmers seeking advice and views on the benefits of placing land into a Queen Elizabeth Trust covenant.

His own sheep and beef property on the flanks of Mt Maungatautari near Cambridge has five separate covenants totaling 40ha or 10 percent of their farm covering wetland and hill country bush stands. It also includes land in the increasingly popular Maungatautari Ecological Island Reserve, an area enclosed by one of the country’s longest predator proof fences that stretches 47km around the 3400ha enclosure.

“While it is possible to place a covenant on your property using a council or Department of Conservation covenant, QEII is preferred by most farmers because of the support you get with it.

That includes a visit every couple of years from the field officer to check the fences, offer advice on pest control and just see how the block is looking.”

“QEII is the preferred option by most farmers seeking to protect ecologically significant land because of the support you get.” 

QEII support can also include providing up to 50% of the fencing cost, and often councils will provide additional funds for the covenanted land’s protection.

He said having a covenant in perpetuity offers a lot of peace of mind to the landowner wanting to protect the bush that the protection will continue beyond their lifetime. “They are making a sacrifice to do this, and know that if the farm is sold or passed on, that protection will remain.”

He said whether or not a covenant adds value to a farm can be debated, depending upon site, district and scale.

“In some cases it will improve the farm’s aesthetic value by protecting what is defined as an ‘outstanding landscape’, but may prevent subdivision in the future which you could argue actually detracts from its capital value.” 

But in some areas like his in the Waikato having a covenant added to both aesthetic and capital value, bringing a valuable means of helping protect waterway catchments, and an appealing visual bonus.

“It is also helpful that QEII offer some funds to help with surveying the blocks into covenant titles, and with fencing costs for the blocks.”

Bayleys Taranaki rural agent Mark Monckton has a 120ha property on the Taranaki coast under contract at present that includes 81ha of covenanted regenerating bush.  He said it could be debated about how much value a covenanted title adds to a property, with some buyers putting more significance on it than others.

 “It can be debated as to the value a covenanted title adds to a property, with some buyers putting more significance on it than others. 

“But it does also often mean you have part of the farm already fenced off in more sensitive areas from stock. You do certainly get an improvement on larger hill country units with some of that tougher country fenced off. The assistance you get to fence these areas off is often a welcome bonus for doing it too.”

The Taranaki region has something of a surge in farmer interest in covenanting bush areas over recent years. Sixteen new covenants were allocated to Taranaki in the 2015-16 year, out of a national yearly total of about 120. 

Paul Kirby said the popularity of covenants in the region have been buoyed by a supportive regional council that is encouraging landowners to protect their special environmental areas.

A number of high profile farms throughout New Zealand also include QEII covenants upon them, including 2015 Ballance Farm Environment award winners John and Catherine Ford who protected 140ha of their Highlands Station south of Rotorua. 

“A few years ago people shied away a bit from covenants but they are quite common place now and farmers understand them better than they once did,” says Bill Garland.

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