Farming and forestry are permitted on reserve land … where it is in the public interest…. 1977 Reserves Act
Queen Elizabeth Park land use in the news
By Roger Childs
Recent articles in the Kapiti News have raised issues about how the districts largest public reserve is being exploited by the farmers. Concerns over draining wetlands, poisoning pasture and altering the gates to allow for increased stock truck movements, raise doubts about whether the interests of the public are paramount.
Under the Reserves Act (quoted above) Queen Elizabeth Park is fundamentally a recreation reserve: Farming, forestry or any other commercial venture, needs to be in the public interest.
The administering body is the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) which in its wisdom has allowed a large farming operation to develop and expand. At the expense of the ratepayers, they provide the farmers with a large number of a capital items and services.
Questions are now being raised about whether this is money well spent, and whether the farmers are looking after the environment they are leasing, as required by the Reserves Act.
The region’s ratepayers would be interested in the answer to this question: Does GWRC make a profit from the farming in Queen Elizabeth Park?
What GWRC provides
In relation to assets on the farmed area, GWRC has a “landlord-tenant” relationship in that as part of the farm licence we have supplied a range of assets – fences, waterlines and troughs, a woolshed and yards, farmhouse in a condition fit for purpose, which the farmer is responsible for maintaining.
We undertake “capital” upgrades eg new roofs, boundary fences (including those areas between farmed areas and those that are retired and/or for recreation.) and other large scale works eg the current culvert replacement. Information provided by Kapiti’s representative on the GWRC, Penny Gaylor
She also mentioned that the farmers are also investing a lot of funds in localised weed control. This very issue caused consternation on Labour Day 2015 when helicopter poisoning of pastures took place while people were enjoying a fine, calm morning in the park.
At two well attended meeting at Raumati South Hall, GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw admitted that this had been approved and paid for by the Council, and an apology was given.
However concerns remained that spraying poison in the park was having a negative effect on the environment and was not in the public interest.
The news has now come out that more spraying is planned for the coming Spring.
Looking after the environment
… ensuring, as far as possible, the survival of all indigenous species of flora and fauna, both rare and commonplace, in their natural communities and habitats, and the preservation of representative samples of all classes of natural ecosystems and landscape … Reserves Act
Back in 2015 a stalwart supporter of Queen Elizabeth Park, the late John Lancashire, succeeded in getting $280,000 from the Ministry of the Environment for a Kapiti Biodiversity Project which centres on the park.
This has been a very positive development in helping to monitor and maintain the ecosystems in the reserve.
The enhancement of the park also continues with regular planting sessions and several thousand seedlings, shrubs and flaxes have been embedded in the soils this month.
However there are serious questions over some of the farming practices carried out by the Wairarapa-based firm Beetham Pastural Ltd.
Not looking after the environment?
The area being sprayed is relatively small, 19.2 hectares of plantain/clover with a red clover/tall fescue pasture and an additional 4.05 hectares in kale … GWRC Parks Manager, Amanda Cox on the forthcoming spraying programme.
As mentioned above, there was strong community reaction against the 2015 poisoning operation, and The Friends of Queen Elizabeth Park are not happy about the spraying planned for next month. They are concerned about the effects on insects and macro-invertebrate life in streams.
This is also the issue of the detrimental effects on park soils.
Another major worry is the proposed drainage of the wetlands south of Raumati. Back in the 1970s, just north of Mackays Crossing, land was drained and turned into sports fields. But this was a failure, as the fields were often boggy and clearly best left as wetlands because of the surface configuration and the nature of the sub-soils.
Russell Bell, Chairman of the Friends, feels that the area could be a natural wetland carbon sink. However, despite recently warning local body leaders about the effects of climate change, GWRC Chair, Chris Laidlaw, is not impressed.
Time for change?
There is a strong impression that grass spraying and wetland draining are more about increasing productivity and profits for the farmers, than about looking after the Queen Elizabeth Park environment in the public interest.
It could be that the time has come for
- more land to be retired from farming
- allowing some areas to revert to wetlands
- banning poisoning
- promoting organic farming on a small scale.
A public-friendly farming operation with accessible animals could be a popular attraction for visitors with children.
As regards the management of the park, it could be time to place it in the hands of the local authority in which it is located: the Kapiti Coast District Council.