Landholder generosity critical to public access in NZ

PM Lake Dunstan

12/04/2017 2:17pm

Penny Mudford is a member of the NZWAC board, and she wants to celebrate landholders across New Zealand who facilitate public access and follow the Kiwi way.

New Zealand’s population is growing, particularly in Auckland and other urban areas. At the same time, we’re seeing a boom in the number of international visitors coming to our shores, often with the intention of exploring some of the picturesque tracks and iconic tourist places our country has to offer. This combination of growing tourist numbers and increasing population is leading to more demand for access to the outdoors, and placing greater pressure on our existing network of tracks and trails.

Public access to the outdoors in our country comprises mostly of roads, both formed and unformed, river margins, reserves, conservation estate, and private land. For us to maintain and grow this valuable access network it takes cooperation and collaboration with a number of parties. In particular, private landholders play a key role in connecting the broken links in access available to the public.        

Many New Zealanders are not aware that farmers and other landholders often allow people to have access across private land so that they can get to their special recreational spots. This generous practice has been going on in New Zealand for generations and underpins some of the spirit of being a rural New Zealander. Being a custodian of the land and sharing rural experiences with others is for many an integral part of Kiwi nature.

Often, we take access over private land for granted, not thinking about it unless it is blocked by the landholder, or lost by the sale of a farm property to new owners less supportive of access. 

And any loss of access is keenly felt in nation like ours where spending time in the outdoors has been a long-standing tradition. Whether tramping our ranges, climbing our mountains, fishing our rivers, or swimming in our lakes, the outdoors has been where it's at for generations. I remember a childhood of family picnics at the river and long bike rides along bumpy gravel tracks. I don't remember questioning whether access was on public land or private land and relied only on local knowledge of where to go and how to behave.

Private landholders have no legal obligation to allow public access over their land. They are legally entitled to have uninterrupted use of their land without the intrusion of people walking across their property and, in some cases, disturbing their usual farming practices of grazing livestock, growing crops, or lambing and calving.   

Rather than focusing on the many valid reasons why landholders sometimes don't allow access I thought I would talk about some of the reasons why landholders do allow access.

There are plenty of New Zealanders who uphold the Kiwi traditions of hunting, fishing, tramping, and climbing. These Kiwis include city, urban, and rural dwellers alike and it’s no surprise that rural people are open to sharing the great outdoor experience with their fellow New Zealanders. Also, many of us have grown up with a sense of being connected to the land, either by living on a farm or visiting family and friends in the countryside. These values continue to be strong in rural New Zealand, demonstrated by the many examples of people who open their farm gate to allow people to pass through their land.

As well as allowing informal access many landowners grant formal access across their land by way of easements. This ensures that access will continue to be available to the public in the future even if the land is sold.

There is a real need for access to our outdoors and private landowners play an important role in connecting existing roads and trails with other parts of our rural landscape. Understanding that public access across private land is a courtesy of the landholder helps us to appreciate the generous nature of many rural people, and we hope their generosity will continue into the future.

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