Farm advice: Private farmland access not a ‘right’

By: Kim Reilly, Federated Farmers South Island regional policy manager


Access to private farmland remains a hot topic across the country. The debate is getting messy, with multiple topical issues muddled together.

This is frustrating for the landowners caught in the cross hairs. If you read any particularly outraged ‘take’ on the topic, you generally see reference to overseas buyers. More often than not, the tale involves locals deprived of a chance to experience scenery now in overseas hands.

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Typically, the outraged person hasn’t actually been to that location or sought and been declined access, or even ever had any genuine desire to do so, but the point apparently is that their future access ‘rights’ are being constrained.

Federated Farmers has been pretty adamant in reinforcing the point that access to or across private farmland is a privilege. Where that access is restricted, it may be for weather, health and safety, biosecurity, or farming reasons such as lambing or spraying.

To find that out, though, you need to approach the landowner to seek permission and get their reasoning. Then you can decide whether the answer is worthy of outrage or not.

I wouldn’t contemplate running through your backyard without asking how you felt about it; the same rationale applies.

Our conservation estate is plentiful; nearly a third of New Zealand. But there is still more farmland than conservation land, and with increasing tourism numbers, there’s a greater desire to access previously isolated areas.

We’ve heard from farmers the impact of a single Instagram photo from a stunning viewpoint on their land. The result can be thousands of subsequent endeavours to get to that same spot, often without appropriate vehicles, attire, or equipment. And first port of call in any misadventure is usually to the landowner for help.

The Walking Access Commission released a report on South Island High Country Access earlier this year. It found tourist numbers were increasing rapidly throughout New Zealand, but particularly in the tussock grasslands of the Mackenzie Country, Queenstown Lakes, and Central Otago.

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There are farmers we’ve spoken with who are experiencing tens of thousands and in some cases up to a hundred thousand tourists crossing their land. With such numbers, who should maintain the tracks to ensure they’re safe and fit for purpose, who should provide signage on what behaviour is and is not appropriate, and, most importantly, who should provide other infrastructure such as toilets?

The Walking Access Commission works closely with high country farmers and is aware of the risk of future restricted access as a direct result of large increases in tourism numbers. As a result, it is working closely with farming representatives and other key stakeholders to strategise on ways forward.

With the fishing season kicking off in a couple of months, it is worth mentioning that future restricted access to hunters and fishermen is another matter. The same principle applies: seek permission before entering. But the greatest risk to that access in likelihood remains the anti-farming rhetoric currently wrapped up in the messaging of the National Fish & Game chief executive.

It’s a shame, as we’d hate to see that negative approach undo all the goodwill local farmers have with hunters or anglers and their local Fish & Game representatives.

The way forward in all cases is open, positive dialogue and keeping lines of communication open.

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