South Island prospecting threatens to undermine Government's 'no new mining on conservation land' promise

"No new mining on conservation land." That's was the promise from the government when it took office last year.

That’s according to environmental groups after parts of the South Island have been opened up for exploration. Source: 1 NEWS

But now environmental groups say the recent opening up of parts of the South Island for prospecting threatens to undermine that policy.

More than 40,000 square kilometres of land in the Nelson and Otago regions has been reopened for mining prospecting after restrictions were put in place for the length of a geological survey.

This month, those restrictions were lifted by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, much to the surprise of the Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

The land includes parts of Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes National Parks as well as Otago’s Rock and Pillar Conservation Area.

"These are really important areas to people and the Ministry (MBIE) seems to be wanting to open it up to mining," says Forest and Bird Chief Conservation Advisor Kevin Hackwell.

A prospecting permit holder has the right to look for specific minerals, but only through low impact activities like surveys from the air, studying maps and soil samples.

Under the Crown Minerals Act, applications can be made for prospecting permits on conservation land and in some cases, National Parks. But a permit doesn't guarantee access or the ability to take further action if anything's found.

The Conservation Minister wants to change the law and will present a "no new mines on conservation land" discussion document to the public in September.

But Forest and Bird says miners might try take the opportunity to get started now, before any law change.

"And then what happens is, they've brought their permit, they've done their prospecting and they say 'oh but the government allowed us to do this and the next phase is to start mining', how dare you stop us?" says Mr Hackwell.

Miners say finding a new mine is rare and there are strict rules in place with the Resource Management Act.

"We have a process that provides a very thorough balance of economic and social and environmental issues," Straterra Chief Executive Chris Baker told 1 NEWS.

The minister says she'll be watching the number of new applications for the land, as she puts together her new tougher policy.