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Speech to Federated Farmers National Council by Hon Chris Carter

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today.

I gather you would like me to outline how my portfolios are contributing to the government's growth and innovation strategy.

I will do so with pleasure and I'd like to start with Conservation because I believe it is contributing to economic growth in unacknowledged ways in New Zealand.

I say unacknowledged because there is a tendency among some industries and economists - and I am not including farmers in this group - to characterise conservation land as locked up and economically useless.

In some respects this tendency is not surprising given the competition for land use in New Zealand.

Agriculture, horticulture and planted forestry use about 52 per cent of New Zealand's land. Conservation, whether public or private, spans about 30 percent. One nibbles at the fringes of the other, and vice versa. Tension is inevitable.

But in my view, impressions of the economic value of conservation land are changing with the generations.

As I move around the country, I am seeing a growing recognition in both rural and urban communities that protected land is a resource for social, recreational and commercial use, albeit with one caveat, that use does not unduly affect the integrity of the natural environment or protected species.

Communities reared on a culture of extraction are starting to see sustainable economic opportunities from the appeal of natural environments, primarily through the mechanisms of recreation and tourism.

Farmers are frequently at the forefront of this.

There was a fantastic example of what I am talking about in the media just last week.

In Canterbury, local communities living around Mount Somers have been gradually constructing a walkway that loops around the mountain.

The initiative sprung up after residents, caught between a decline in agriculture and improved transport, began to seek new economic opportunities for their area.

They looked at beautiful Mount Somers and its spectacular views across the Canterbury plains, and reckoned that people living in Mid-Canterbury could be encouraged into visiting the area and walking a track up and around Mount Somers.

They were right, more so than they ever expected. By working with the Department of Conservation, the community has constructed a track that is attracting up to 6,000 people from as far away as Europe and America.

The final phase of the track was opened last week, and the man who has pushed this project along is a farmer from Mayfield, David Howden.

You see this kind of scenario repeated around the country on public and private protected land.

Take the Banks Peninsula Walkway. In the late 1980s ten families on Banks Peninsula began examining ways in which they could diversify use of their land after several years of drought, falling livestock prices and economic hardship.

Their solution: New Zealand's first private tramping track traversing farmland and the Hinewai Reserve, a local conservation initiative.

Since then the committee that ran the track has grown into a company, and 2600 people now walk the track each year.

A lot of the forest surrounding it has been covenanted and a proportion of the profits from the track go towards the replanting of native species.

To me this kind of innovation makes perfect sense. Farmers have interesting stories to tell about their region that can bring it alive for visitors. In turn the income from visitor industries can create incentives to preserve environmental and historic heritage, and buffer commercial farming operations from economic conditions, such as a high dollar.

The split between agricultural or horticultural land-use and conservation creates diversity and flexibility in our rural economy.

Communities living around the Central Otago Rail Trail know this from experience.

The Central Otago Rail Trail was developed despite great cynicism from some locals after the old train service from Middlemarch to Clyde closed a decade ago. That closure left many small communities along the rail line struggling.

Thanks to an innovative partnership between DoC and some outstanding community figures, nearly $1m was raised to restore the line and turn it into a trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

The trail currently attracts over 10,000 visitors a year and is slowly rejuvenating little communities like Lauder and Ranfurly. Businesses in those towns are already enjoying an estimated 25 per cent increase in turnover.

Without changing its mandate – to foster conservation and recreation - DoC has, in this case, helped support the gradual regeneration of a region.

I don't think it is an overstatement to say that New Zealand's billion dollar tourism and recreation industry floats upon the foundations of New Zealand's protected landscapes.

I recently had DoC crunch a few numbers on the money being earned by thousands of businesses with concessions to operate directly on conservation land.

Interestingly, the number of tourism concessions has risen sharply in the past few years, some 25 per cent. Earnings by the businesses holding those concessions have risen by more than 100 per cent in some parts of the country.

The DoC estate is a vast recreational and economic asset. DoC maintains more than 300 campsites, 12,500km of track, 1000 backcountry huts, 2,130km of road, and 79 visitor and information centres.

Annual individual visits to conservation land in New Zealand are expected to hit 28 million this year. I repeat, 28 MILLION individual visits.

My point is the work DoC carries out and the decisions it makes in administering conservation land and advocating for environmental protection can and does play a significant role in economic growth.

The Government's strategy in Conservation has been to protect a greater proportion of New Zealand's natural environment and biodiversity through new land purchases and the implementation of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.

At the same time, we have sought to better align tourism and conservation to enable us to deal more effectively with the issues one creates for the other.

We have sought to clear out the bureaucratic blockages in the processing of concessions to use DoC land to provide for commercial use but only where it is safe for the environment.

We have sought to deal with longstanding problems with the maintenance of DoC's huts and tracks. $349m was announced in the 2002/2003 Budget to reorganise this infrastructure so it was sustainable on the long term and aligned with modern recreational and tourist usage.

And we have sought to offer private landowners more opportunity to diversify their land use into habitat protection. These opportunities include a special fund for the protection of biodiversity on private land, and significantly increased budgets for organisations like QE II and Nature Heritage Fund.

The queue of farmers wanting to covenant their land with QE II is something that as Conservation Minister I find particularly heart warming. I congratulate your industry on it.

As a final comment on conservation, I'd like to point

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