The debate among farmers, conservationists and outdoor recreation groups on what should replace the soon-to-be scrapped tenure review process is already up and running.

Federated Farmers says a tougher management regime for high country lessees could "cripple" the sector, but a conservation lobby group says reform is needed to prioritise the protection of native plants and animals over farm development.

The country's biggest advocate for outdoor recreation wants a new process aimed at achieving a better balance between the interests of leaseholders and the public.

Just a few hours after media outlets began reporting an announcement would be made in a matter of days, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday rushed to confirm tenure review in the South Island high country will be scrapped.


It comes in the week after Land Information New Zealand (Linz) published a damning assessment of the process and the Crown's land management.

Tenure review is a voluntary process whereby Crown pastoral land can be sold to a leaseholder and areas with high ecological and recreational value can be returned to Crown ownership as conservation land.

Sage said tenure review had produced a "mixed bag", and the taxpayer had not always got value for money.

Although land had been added to the conservation estate, it had also resulted in more intensive farming and subdivision on the 353,000ha of land made freehold.

"This contributed to major landscape change and loss of habitat for native plants and animals."

An announcement about the future of Crown pastoral land management would be made on Sunday, she said.

Federated Farmers high country spokesman Simon Williamson said it was important the 40 properties now in the tenure review process be allowed to complete it if they wished.

It wanted the Government to develop a "win-win" process in which leaseholders could work with the Crown and conservation interests to identify areas of special value on their properties, and agree on the best way of protecting and managing those.


There would be some nervousness among farmers about the prospects for a tougher management regime for high country leases, Williamson said.

"It depends on whether they want to cripple high country farming or not."

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said it was "nervous times ahead" for high country farmers.

"Farmers who have slogged away on leasehold land, developing it into sustainable pastures, may now no longer have the right to purchase this land.

"Instead of fixing a few small issues within a process, it's apparent this Government finds it easier to just throw the whole thing out."

Forest & Bird conservation and advocacy manager Jen Miller said scrapping tenure review would be a "vital reprieve" for some of the country's most endangered species.

"We've argued for many years that not only is tenure review a spectacularly bad deal for New Zealanders, it's been terrible for our natural environment."

It wanted reform aimed at better management of the remaining South Island high country leases that gave priority to the protection of native plants and animals over farm development.

"Linz has managed pastoral leases very poorly, allowing discretionary consents which breach regional environmental laws and destroy native vegetation."

Otago Conservation Board chairman Pat Garden said tenure review had been hampered by poor implementation and management from the outset.

A failure to use the Resource Management Act to better control the intensification of freeholded land, as well as purchases by overseas interests, had prompted growing "public resentment" of the process.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Peter Wilson said it supported the continuation of pastoral leases, but wanted a simpler, more transparent process that achieved a better balance between the interests of leaseholders and the public.