A plan to designate more than 40 per cent of the Far North as Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) is a big disincentive to people who already look after their land, speaker after speaker told a packed public meeting in Kāeo.
More than 200 people turned out on Thursday evening to share their concerns about a proposed expansion of the district's SNAs, a day after close to 500 people attended a similar meeting in Kawakawa.
Many of those at the Kāeo meeting said they already protected native bush by planting, pest control and fencing — but the SNA plan, which could limit use of their properties, had given them second thoughts.
Ahipara's Danny Simms said he loved his land and didn't need anyone to tell him to look after it.
The fact that 42 per cent of Far North was covered in indigenous vegetation, up from 30 per cent in the 1990s, showed people were already doing a good job of caring for native habitats.
''Why do we need people coming in over the top of us to tell us what to do with these properties we're already looking after so well?''
A Waipapa woman, who did not want to give her name, said her ''big beef'' was the survey's inaccuracy, with a paddock of gorse on her land identified from aerial photos as indigenous vegetation.
She said she had always tried to protect waterways and plant native trees.
''Am I going to do that now? No, I'm going to plant a poplar or an oak, so the council can't deem it an SNA in the future. How does this motivate people to keep their land natural?''
Asha Andersen said 90 per cent of her Whangaroa property had been deemed an SNA.
While extra protection for native bush was a ''beautiful concept'', she felt undermined by the council notice, which didn't recognise her efforts or her role as the land's primary caretaker.
She also worried she wouldn't be able to make tracks, gather seeds or even bury her dog in future.
''We need to find a way to come together and protect these areas but it has to be in partnership,'' she said.
A few brave, and heavily outnumbered, voices backed the plan.
Bryce Smith said he was pleased a large chunk of his land had been designated as an SNA. His father had long fought to protect the land and SNAs offered an extra tool to safeguard it.
Smith also had a message for people describing SNAs as a land grab: ''Try being a Māori. That land was grabbed from us, and it was pristine.''
Also courageous was Northland regional councillor Marty Robinson, who fronted at the meeting in the absence of Far North District Council representatives. (Chief executive Shaun Clarke did, however, attend the Kawakawa meeting the night before.)
Robinson said rules were needed to protect the ngahere (forest) from ''the occasional ratbag'' who tried to destroy it.
However, he said he would take the ''loud and clear'' message to the council that people wanted SNAs put on hold.
Other speakers included Jamie McFadden, who had previously farmed at Hurunui, Canterbury, and now operates a native tree nursery and chairs the Rural Advocacy Network.
He said Hurunui was one of the first districts to be mapped for SNAs in 1994.
Locals challenged SNAs all the way to the Environment Court and won, he said via Zoom.
The district had since thrown out SNAs and switched to more effective ways of encouraging people to protect native habitats.
Though the process was driven by central government, it pitted citizens against their local councils, he said.
''It's a horrible process. It was very hard on people but also on councillors and council staff. It destroyed relationships. We urge people to treat each other with respect — we can win this with good arguments.''
McFadden urged the district council to halt the process and give the issue ''some breathing room''.
Kāeo resident Annette Melgren said she had called the meeting because of the ''very poor'' way people had been informed of the SNA plan.
The second half of the meeting was dedicated to an action forum in which locals discussed their next steps, including a hīkoi to the council chambers in Kaikohe.
Some speakers also used the meeting to promote a variety of conspiracy theories, including that SNAs were part of a United Nations Agenda 21 plan to impose state ownership on all farmland, or that SNAs were a smokescreen allowing the Government to mine private land.