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Farmers' efforts to protect native habitats on their land don't go far enough - Forest and Bird

Efforts by farmers to protect precious habitats on their land don't go far enough, according to Forest and Bird.

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The environmental group is defending a Government proposal to ring-fence areas of private land which are home to endangered native species. Source: 1 NEWS

The environmental group is defending a Government proposal to ring fence areas of private land which are home to endangered native species.

Fran Perriam is a sheep farmer in Canterbury also taking care of a large section of native bush.

“We're environmentalists - we've protected land on our property, we look after it,” Perriam said.

Around 200,000 hectares of similar land across the country is now protected by the QE2 covenant, meaning it cannot be touched even when it's sold to a new owner.

“Back in the ‘70s, local farmers - or farmers in New Zealand - decided that they appreciated the bush land on their properties and they wanted a way to save it in perpetuity,” Perriam explained.

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But Forest and Bird argues it's insufficient given we're losing more than we're saving.

“In the last five years for which we have data, we've lost 13,000 hectares of native habitat and most of that has been turned into grass,” Forest and Bird’s Megan Hubscher said.

The lobby group has been working alongside Federated Farmers and the Government on a national policy statement which could force councils to identify “Significant Natural Areas” on private land.

Federated Farmers’ Chris Allan says the SNA “does not take land off farmers but it stops what you can do on it”.

“It doesn’t stop the rates you pay on that land,” he said.

It's expected to cost councils millions to administer.

“We have put it to the central government that they should be providing assistance and expertise,” Hubscher said.

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Farmers are worried that the Government categorising land with native flora and fauna as "significant natural areas" could force them off the land. Source: 1 NEWS

Farmers, too, want compensation.

“Do you need to put a fence around it, do predator control? What else are you going to do on that? You can’t just expect that to fall back to the landowner,” Allan said.

Perriam says the native habitats still exist because farmers already value them. She's worried there's too much uncertainty.

“You can start off with one rule or regulation and end up with something quite different,” she said.

Hubscher adds there is "no suggestion that they will change in the future".

While both the farming and environmental lobbies support the general idea, they're waiting to hear details of a final plan.