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Land grab in the South Island - have your say

About 2.5 million hectares of Department of Conservation (DOC) land sits in a no-mans classification of “stewardship land”.

It’s a holding classification for Crown land that was transferred to DOC in the 1980s, but the department has never got around to actually assessing and verifying its conservation value.

So now, the Government is setting up “national expert panels” that will be tasked with individually reviewing the 3,000 parcels of land under this classification and providing recommendations back to them as to what to do with it. The options are to reclassify the land under the Conservation, Reserve or National Parks Acts, or dispose of it. They want this job done in the next five years.

They are starting with 1 million hectares in the South Island, and according to a job listing we came across, want this done in the next two years. 

And guess who will be joining the forum to assess this significant chunk of Crown-owned land in the South Island land? Ngāi Tahu.

Yes, that same iwi that has a Right of First Refusal to purchase all “surplus” Crown land in the South Island, and that same iwi that has the right to lodge claims against the Government in the Waitangi Tribunal, which often results in the transfer of Crown land to iwi as a “make good”.

The Government can hark on about this process including a provision for public consultation, but our consultation processes are weak. Ngāi Tahu know this, which is why they have demanded (via the threat of continued legal action), to be at the top table.

The Government can also say that these panels don’t make the final decision, that is for the Minister of Conservation, but the Minister is going to have hundreds, possibly thousands of these recommendations pass across her desk over the next couple of years, she’s hardly going to study the merits of each one.

Sure, some land will be assessed to have special ecological or natural features and these will end up with greater protections. But this is exactly the type of land that holds significant potential for mining minerals, particularly critical minerals. Chris Baker, the chief executive of Straterra, the mining industry’s main lobby group, told Newsroom that these areas are one and the same: “Often there’s an alignment with ‘unusual conservation values’ – where the geology and substrate is unusual [and it’s mining potential].” 

And don’t forget, Labour has backtracked on its election promise to ban open cast mining on conservation land, which in no doubt is the result of pressure from the mining industry, of which Ngāi Tahu is a big player.

“We want to protect native species, significant ecosystems, and traditional places for future generations. It’s also important that as part of this process, mana whenua and the public have an opportunity to provide their views on whether economic activity should be undertaken in some places, if it is appropriate to do so.”
- Lisa Tumahai, Ngāi Tahu

So there you have it. In all, 9% of the country is classified as “stewardship land”, and you won’t have a snowball’s in hell of having a say on what happens to it.


Currently, only DOC has the statutory authority to reclassify stewardship land, and they have transparent processes to follow.

Under this new process, the Conservation Act will be amended and these new “national expert panels” will be in charge, rendering DOC a bystander in the process. Other changes proposed include reducing the public consultation period from 40 to 20 working days and removing public hearings (except when the panels decide to include them).

DOC is calling for submissions to these changes. You can read their discussion document here, and send your submission via email to [email protected], with the subject line: Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process

We suggest your submission covers:

1. [Reduced consultation time, lack of transparency with the removal of pubic hearings]

2. [Conflict of interest with the inclusion of mana whenua panels]



You have until 18 March 2022.




Interactive map of conservation areas (includes all protected areas, click on a parcel to see its category): https://data.linz.govt.nz/x/CZWiG

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