NZ Farmer - Private high country land access a privilege, not a right

Pat Deavoll writes:

A few weeks ago, a friend and I had a lovely ride across a couple of Canterbury high country stations on our motorbikes.

The track straddled two farms, and we sought permission from both. The farmers were happy with us going through with one requesting we pay $10 per bike, and the other asking that we didn't post anything on social media as they didn't want to have a "rush of bikers" over their land. Fair enough.

The ride went without a hitch except for my friend departing her bike in a big muddy puddle. We got back to Christchurch in a round trip of about eight hours.

For high country farmers to allow the public across their land is going above and beyond what is required of them as New Zealand citizens.

Unbeknown to me my friend posted on Facebook - in fact, two postings on the trip. When I realised this, I asked her to remove them, and she took down the main one, but not the more generic story about her tussle with the puddle. What's wrong with me showing off a bit, she said. You can't tell where it is?

This resulted in me receiving an irate phone call from the farmer who had seen both postings and was unhappy. He said the track would be closed to motorcyclists from now on. Although I understand his reasoning, I hope he reconsiders this.

There were many reasons for closing the track to the public, he said. At this time of the year, mid-summer, there was a high fire risk. There was ongoing damage to the track which traversed a relatively fragile part of the high country. There was the stress of stock, and mis-mothering during lambing time. There was also the biosecurity risk of spreading weeds and stock disease from outside the area.

All valid reasons for precluding the public from privately owned high country land.

We only have to look at the Port Hills fires or the damage to Mt Roy down at Wanaka lately to know that with the dry summer we are having, many remote areas are subject to fire risk and all caution must be taken. The more remote the area, the harder it is to contain a fire, which could take out fences, summer grazing, even buildings at cost to the farmer.

Track maintenance is an ongoing issue for any high country station, and the track in question had suffered significant washout from the winter. Add to that any wear and tear from public vehicles and the track would be subject to extra maintenance, again all at a cost to the farmer.

Frightening stock and mis-mothering ewes and lambs could result in costly stock losses.

And the outbreaks of M.bovis and velvetleaf last year point to how devastating biosecurity risks are to the agricultural sector.

My friend was not from the country and did not realise that recreation on private farmland was a privilege, not a right. We entered that land at the good grace of the farmer and should have played by the rules to maintain that opportunity. It was the farmers' right to pull that privilege if they felt their goodwill was being abused.

For those people in the city, would you let the public use your lawn as a thoroughfare? I don't think so. So for high country farmers to allow the public across their land is going above and beyond what is required of them as New Zealand citizens. They do so as a show of goodwill to the public, but it is the public's job to maintain that goodwill.

I guess this is an apology on my part to the farmer in question for not doing everything I could to play by his rules. It is his land, what he says goes.