Te Tai Tokerau farmers are increasingly anxious about a push from central Government to protect sections of land deemed to be Significant Natural Areas (SNA).
They fear the widespread implementation of SNA could force them out of business and off their farms.
"It's sort of death by a thousand cuts ... All of the small things are adding up and we're already seeing in Northland, a lot of land going from farming into pine trees," said Federated Farmers Far North branch chairman Dave Wilson.
Farmers have said a lack of clarity and consultation around what constitutes a SNA, the effects of having a SNA on a property, and the responsibilities that come with that have all added to their anxiety.
According to the Fare North District Council, the proposed District Plan will include specific rules for SNAs related to clearing vegetation or when subdividing, and this is when landowners may need to apply for resource consent.
"The RPS directs that council rules do not unreasonably restrict the existing use of production land, including forestry," FNDC said.
Despite reassurances from the FNDC, farmers are concerned that the language being used is too vague and are fearful that even small changes proposed for a SNA, such as clearing regenerating scrub to make the land productive, could be restricted.
"Farmers will not be able to farm their land as they might wish. They have lost their right to farm or make improvements on their properties and are having rules imposed on them by others who do not understand farming," said Federated Farmers Northland president Colin Hannah.
Despite Hannah's concerns being shared by other industry leaders throughout Te Hiku o Te Ika, the FNDC said it is simply fulfilling its responsibilities to protect areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna under the Northland Regional Council (NRC) Regional Policy Statement (RPS) released in 2016, alongside the Resource Management Act.
"Policies on maintaining and enhancing indigenous ecosystems and species were included in the 2016 Northland Regional Council (NRC) Regional Policy Statement (RPS). This included a direction to identify, using specified criteria, Significant Natural Areas and to place these maps in district plans and to apply the RPS policies," said the FNDC.
Over the last two years the FNDC, alongside Whangāre and Kaipara District councils, began the process of updating their SNA maps, which had not been done since the 1990s.
The new maps, carried out mainly via desktop analysis of aerial photographs, identified a further 65,000 hectares of SNA in the Far North.
The total area of land identified as a SNA was 282,696 hectares, around 42 per cent of all of the land in the Far North District.
"My impression was they were just going to pick the most significant areas but over 40 per cent of the Far North District has been identified as an SNA, which seems like a bit more than just the most significant areas," said Wilson.
Under the RPS policies, anyone with an area of land on their property that has been classed as a SNA wanting to subdivide, develop, clear vegetation, or use the SNA or land nearby for a new activity will have to first seek resource consent.
"It's basically an attack on property rights. It's like someone coming on to your property and taking a strip of land off your section and saying 'you no longer own this'," said one Far North farmer who wished to remain anonymous.
Another concern among farmers was the added responsibility of protecting SNA on their properties and the costs associated with doing so.
The FNDC said the proposed District Plan will have land use and subdivision rules associated with SNAs that may require landowners to protect SNA if they planned to develop the land or clear vegetation.
Exactly what the expectations are in terms of protection were unclear.
What was clear is that there will be no compensation for landowners with a SNA on their lands and that they would instead be expected to apply for funding via a scheme if they were required to protect the SNA.
"I know people who have got SNAs on their properties that are living in caravans or shipping containers. You're talking about people that are on the bones of their arse. I think the councils up here recognise that but central Government probably doesn't," said Wilson.
Besides the immediate costs associated with protecting SNA, there were also concerns about the effective retirement of land from commercial use and the effect this would have on property values. With some farms having almost half of their land area designated as SNA, landowners felt left in the cold without any compensation, rates relief, or support.
One farmer had a 170ha block for sale, with 70ha being designated as an SNA.
A prospective buyer was interested in purchasing the farm to put some chalets in a block of native bush, because of the sea views, but did not make an offer due to the SNA policy.
"Almost half of his farm is no longer his. It's in his title, he pays rates on it, but it's not his to use. That's a removal of property rights," said a friend of the farmer.