Last week we heard news of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Ruataniwha land swap and indeed a ruling setting a precedent for all Forest Park conservation land in New Zealand that specially protected conservation land cannot be revoked and swapped for development purposes.

The immediate response from Prime Minister Bill English and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry was to devalue the Ruataniwha conservation area at stake.

They stated "Everyone thought the legislation meant that you could trade a lower conservation piece of land in return for higher conservation piece of land" and "for the past 30 years we all believed that the legislation allowed the swap of a low value piece of conservation land for a piece of land with higher conservation values".

The Supreme Court ruled that revocation of protected status can occur "only where its intrinsic conservation values no longer warrant such protection", and it was "clear" the protected status of the 22ha was appropriate.

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So what are the conservation values of the 22ha of special protected land that played a part in the court's decision?

The 22ha of DoC land consists of internationally and nationally rare braided river ecosystem, a rare wetland, an intact and ecologically functioning stream and river ecosystem that includes native alluvial and riparian vegetation.

The area is home to many threatened species, providing New Zealand falcon and long-tail bats with feeding areas. Fernbird live within the wetland habitat and riparian zones of Dutch Creek.

Six different threatened fish species; blue-gilled bully, red-finned bully, torrent fish, long-finned eel, dwarf galaxias and koaro reside in Dutch Creek and within the confluence of Makaroro river. Many of these fish species require passage to the sea or further down river to complete their lifecycle.

Further up Dutch Creek large black beech provide habitat for the threatened red mistletoe.

The 22ha of specially protected DoC land is not a "low value piece of conservation land".

Trying to ignore the many important conservation values, such as rare ecosystems and threatened native species certainly does not bode well for Department of Conservation's core statutory role and indeed the Minister of Conservation's lead for "advocacy for conservation".

Dr Amelia McQueen is a senior lecturer, facilitator of the Environmental Education Forum School of Applied Science at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) and is a member of Te Taiao Hawke's Bay Environment Forum.
Views expressed here are the writer's personal opinion, and not the newspaper's. Email editor@hbtoday.co.nz.