In this occasional series, David Barnes attempts to unravel and demystify the different types of conservation land.  

Wilderness areas might be FMC’s biggest success in our 86 year history. Our 1981 conference came up with a blueprint for a network of formal wilderness areas, and most of them now exist or are on the way. Many wilderness areas are in national parks (for example, Olivine in Mt Aspiring National park and Tasman in Kahurangi National park) but some (for example, Hooker-Landsborough and Adams) are on stewardship land. A wilderness area is a social construct – it doesn’t offer any more protection to the natural features than the underlying land status. What it does is allow travellers to experience truly wild places without the trappings of a modern world – other than those they carry with them. No tracks, no huts, no bridges, no aircraft. They are generally places that will take at least a couple of days to cross, and they will have a buffer zone of limited development surrounding them. You can’t just drive up to a wilderness area. All wilderness areas are protected from mining by being listed in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991. But rather than defining wilderness areas by the ‘don’ts’, I’ve always liked Gilbert Grosvenor’s description: Wilderness is an idea as much as a place, with man learning to pass like the shadow of a cloud across what he did not make and cannot improve.

Next time: Stewardship land

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.