Seeking historic heritage conservation and cultural landscape protection in a dynamic South Island high country environment : a case study of the Upper Rangitata/Ashburton Gorge area : can an integrated environmental management approach offer a means by which conflicts can be resolved and progress made?
The South Island High Country is a distinctive New Zealand landscape, but one which could be set to change significantly over the next fifty years. Tenure review, once completed, is expected to see around sixty per cent of the area, predominantly at higher altitude, retired from grazing and returned to Crown management. At the same time, remaining areas are likely to be freeholded to runholders, who will be given considerably greater freedom to develop their land as they see fit. Such changes will bring areas of significant nature conservation and outdoor recreational value into the conservation estate, but what about historic heritage? Many of these sites are at lower altitudes, while most of the High Country river basins offer outstanding scenic vistas. Tenure review in the Upper Rangitata/Ashburton Gorge is underway, but less advanced than in most High Country areas. With the resultant benefit of hindsight, the conservation and recreation interests are keen to see the Department of Conservation (DOC) protect as much of the area as possible. DOC and these interest groups also wish to see the Ashburton and Timaru District Councils (ADC and TDC) control modification of the landscape generally, through strict land use controls in their District Plans. This strong protectionist mentality has concerned runholders, who believe DOC and its supporters are being quite unrealistic in their demands. Efforts to protect the area’s historic heritage are also lagging behind those for natural heritage. With most sites of historic significance on areas likely to be freeholded, if not already so, it is important that the opportunity to preserve them is not lost. Initiatives to protect historic sites and structures must also consider the wider landscape. The High Country is typically seen as an outstanding natural and scenic landscape, but it is also very much a cultural landscape. Sharp contrasts in natural features, such as mountain ranges and river valleys characterise the Upper Rangitata/Ashburton Gorge area, but the landscape is also one dominated by tussock grasslands resulting from burning by Maori, and numerous farming improvements typical of High Country stations. The Upper Rangitata/Ashburton Gorge is a cultural landscape with an interesting history, which includes the association of Samuel Butler with the area. It is also, however, an area in which a number of stakeholders are competing for its resources in pursuit of their goals. If historic heritage conservation and cultural landscape protection are to be successfully achieved, it is important that their advocates seek to get alongside and achieve the co-operation of other interests, who might otherwise be opposed to such initiatives. Integrated environmental management (IEM), a comprehensive but integrative approach to the environment, and one which seeks to involve a range of diverse stakeholders in the pursuit of common goals from the outset, is offered as a means to this end. Initiatives to better protect the area’s historic heritage and its wider cultural landscape should be considered alongside a broad range of resource management concerns, Proponents of specific interests are then likely to be more understanding, and hence supportive, of each other’s intentions. Application of an IEM approach should ideally be co-ordinated by a neutral type of agency with a broad resource management focus, such as the ADC in respect of the Ashburton Gorge and TDC in respect of the Upper Rangitata. The TDC has recently adopted an IEM-type approach in the form of a working party to progress the identification of outstanding landscapes and significant natural areas in the District. The ADC, meanwhile, is seeking to work with runholders to address concerns over areas of significant nature conservation value as identified in its District Plan. Both initiatives could be easily broadened to include an historic heritage dimension. Environment Canterbury (ECAN) should be encouraged to assume the role of co-ordinator, should this be necessary to achieve a consistent approach on both sides of the Rangitata River. DOC, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and others with an interest in historic heritage conservation and cultural landscape protection should be encouraged to develop a range of possible initiatives in pursuit of their goals. This should include better identification of the area’s historic heritage. Opportunities should also be taken to involve local interest groups, such as the Rangitata Gorge Landcare Group. Others seeking to work with runholders at the grassroots level, such the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust, should also be encouraged to become involved. Intentions should, however, be discussed with stakeholders as part of the IEM process. Such an arrangement should help to reduce conflicts between and build a greater sense of common purpose between a range of interest groups concerned to see this scenically attractive and historically important part of New Zealand managed more effectively.... [Show full abstract]