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Be careful of land grabbing: F

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/02/2017 Cassie Devoy

A New Zealand conservation group says the majority of river margins and lowlands have been taken already, in the wake of a report that reveals 12,000 hectares of such land has been "lost" in the Canterbury region.

"It's the highlands we now need to be careful about, and that landgrabbing doesn't happen there too," says Jen Miller from Forest and Bird.

"As communities we need to establish if it's appropriate to be developing river margins."

The public land on the fringes of some rivers has gradually been lost to private development and absorbed into expanding farms from 1990 to 2012, according to an Environment Canterbury report.

Federated Farmers says farming beside a braided river is complicated due to boundaries and the river beds being poorly defined.

"The river can move but the boundary can not," the lobby group's water spokesman Chris Allen said.

But Ms Miller says it's likely the "stolen" land was claimed retrospectively, and legalised after it had already been developed.

Mr Allen says the report is likely based on satellite images, and he doubts anyone has actually physically checked the boundaries.

"Where's the title to the land? Have [the private farm owners] done anything wrong? That's the way we're looking at it. I doubt there's a huge amount of illegal activity going on."

The almost 12,000ha of lost public land defies belief, Forest and Bird said on twitter.

"Our public land shouldn't be up for grabs and the agencies responsible for managing this land need to act when they become aware of the illegal development occurring."

Mr Allen disagrees, and says ECan needs to be clear about what the actual problem is.

"The report says there's an encroachment, but doesn't specify any illegal activity. There's a clear difference."

However, Ms Miller said "landowners have clearly done something wrong; they've used public land that's owned by the crown".

The report, released last week, showed that while just over half of agricultural development had occurred on private land, a substantial proportion had been development of leasehold reserve land.

The encroachment was mainly within river protection reserves and endowment land along the margins of the lower Rakaia River, and in DOC reserves along the Rangitata and Waitaki rivers.

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