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

World Heritage Areas are almost an international national park classification. New Zealand has three: Te Wāhipounamu, the Sub Antarctic Islands and Tongariro National Park. These are sites that are recognised by UNESCO as meeting one of 10 criteria , the main one for natural areas being “to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”. New Zealand’s three World Heritage Areas were all measured against that criterion, with Tongariro National Park also being recognised for its cultural values.

In practice, World Heritage Area status has made little difference to the management or use of the land. Tongariro National Park is still managed as a national park, and the Sub Antarctic Islands are still Nature Reserves. Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, at 2.6 million hectares encompassing 10% of New Zealand’s land area includes four national parks: Westland Tai Poutini, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland. However, much of the rest – principally the large swathe of land between Westland Tai Poutini and Mount Aspiring parks but also the Snowdon/Mavora area east of Fiordland – is stewardship land. As discussed in an earlier article, stewardship land is arguably at the bottom of the hierarchy of conservation lands. That’s somewhat contradictory – we accord these places the highest possible international recognition and the lowest possible national recognition.

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.