Time to force farmers that have stolen public land to restore it and hand it back

A regional council report details the widespread conversions, called agricultural encroachment, between 1990 and 2012.

The encroachments took place on the margins, or berm lands, of 24 of the region’s braided rivers – described by the report as “internationally and nationally significant”.

“They are a defining characteristic of the region’s landscape and… critical habitat for remaining indigenous biodiversity,” the report said.

The river banks were crucial to that ecosystem, and provided a natural floodplain, it said.

But in the 22 years from 1990, 11,630 hectares of that riparian zone was converted for intensive agricultural use.

I’m not too thrilled about this. ?Apart from the obvious, it has created access issues for the public and it has removed large flood mitigation buffer zones. ?

Jen Miller from Forest and Bird was furious that farmers had ended up with the land.

“They’ve basically stolen public land,” she said. “That effectively precludes anybody’s ability to access it for recreation or fishing.

“But [these are also] the areas where you have quite intact indigenous vegetation.”

Escalating land value was a driving factor, she said.

“The lower plains land is very valuable now, and that would be why in the past it was just riparian margin and was left alone.

“But as land prices increased, and landowners want to maximise land and maximise profit, it clearly has become an attractive option.”

Home to indigenous plants, fish, birds and lizards – braided rivers were classified as naturally rare or uncommon ecosystems, and considered nationally endangered.

But the areas taken over for farming were gone for good, Ms Miller said.

Well, no. ?Not really. ? But stealing public land for private and commercial use and denying the public access does need to have consequences. ? And let’s make them severe enough so they stand as a proper deterrent for others thinking of troughing off the public resources.