Government plans to put a Marlborough high country station into private ownership have brought renewed criticism of the tenure review process from environmental lobby group Forest and Bird.
The group claims tenure review is short-changing conservation, as the Government plans to hand over 92 per cent of Blairich Station in the Awatere Valley to leaseholders and keep only 7 per cent as public conservation land.
Forest and Bird South Island field co-ordinator Eugenie Sage said yesterday the Blairich split, in which 2941ha would pass into private ownership, fell "alarmingly short" of the Government's promised 50/50 split for tenure review.
Only 230ha of Blairich would be protected as conservation land.
"Blairich is one of the few areas of low-altitude high country in this part of south Marlborough that is not in freehold ownership," Ms Sage said.
"It was a unique opportunity to protect low altitude indigenous vegetation and habitats, given their limited extent in Marlborough's reserve system."
The Blairich plan would deny public access to more than 15km of the scenic Blairich River for tramping and walking because no public easements were established along the river.
Ms Sage said an independent report for the Department of Conservation recommended two areas totalling 485ha be protected as public conservation land.
Ms Sage said the sub-alpine area included rock outcrops, plants restricted to south Marlborough, and habitat for lizards and the threatened New Zealand falcon.
The land was steep, subject to erosion and unsuitable for continued grazing.
An 85ha area of indigenous shrubland and forest remnants on the southern faces of Hooper Ridge above Glen Craig Stream was also being freeholded.
"Forest and Bird is not confident that a proposed covenant will protect the Blairich Range or Hooper Ridge areas, given the intensive grazing of sheep and cattle which the covenant allows, and the failure of other covenants on pastoral lease land," Ms Sage said.
The Hooper Ridge covenant made no provision for public access.
Forest and Bird's criticism follows a call by a Canterbury conservation authority last month for the Government to halt the South Island high-country land tenure review until the results of an investigation were known.
The Canterbury-Aoraki Conservation Board, which advises government conservation agencies, says the review process is disposing of the South Island's "crown jewels" by stealth.
The board wants tenure review halted immediately pending the outcome of a review by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Morgan Williams.