David Barnes attempts to unravel and demystify the different types of conservation land and other public land that is important to outdoor recreationalists.  

Marginal strips are created when Crown land adjacent to the sea, a lake or a river over 3 metres wide is sold or disposed of. One of the more common situations of interest to trampers is during the tenure review process. Because part of the previously-leased land is sold to the leaseholder, marginal strips are automatically created and can provide useful access to the part of the property that has become public conservation land. The last (or first) bit of the Motatapu Track near Lake Wanaka, which runs alongside the Fern Burn, is an example of this. Marginal strips are vested in the Department of Conservation. They are usually 20 metres wide, although this can be reduced if the lesser width still provides good public access. Unlike other some other access mechanisms, marginal strips created under the Conservation Act 1987 move if the river, lake edge or sea margin moves, although older ones created under the Land Act 1948 do not.

Although often not conservation land, there are various land tenures that give access to rivers and coast lines. There’s a myth that the Queen’s Chain is a “thing”, and another that it exists right around the coast, on river banks and along lakeshores. Sadly, that’s not true. It’s been estimated that it exists in about 70% of water margins. Conservation land of any category can run up to the water margin and provide access. Roads (formed or unformed) can run alongside the water – but if the land is eroded, the road may become a road to nowhere. Esplanade reserves and esplanade strips are usually created when a subdivision of land beside a water body results in a lot of less than 4 hectares. The exact rules depend on the local council’s district plan. Esplanade reserves are generally 20 metres wide, and the subdivider has to give it to the council. Reserves are fixed – they don’t move if the water margin moves. Esplanade strips are generally 3 metres wide, and they move with water margin. They remain the property of the landowner, but the public has right of access.

David Barnes is a long serving member of the FMC executive. He is FMC’s nominee to the NZ Conservation Authority, the public representative board which provides advice to DOC and the Minister of Conservation. FMC thanks David for his excellent series and his services to outdoor recreation and conservation.