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Sometimes, no news is good news
In this column, NZWAC board member Maggie Bayfield explains how quietly getting on with the job without much fanfare is sometimes the best approach when facilitating resolutions to access disputes.
The New Zealand Walking Access Commission is well known to many of the groups and organisations we work with: local authorities, Federated Farmers, Federated Mountain Clubs, Fish & Game and Rural Women New Zealand to name just a few. But despite this, with the exception of our initiatives to improve access through the Enhanced Access Fund, the work of the Commission often goes unnoticed by the general public.
This is because the Commission is quietly getting on with its job. No headlines in the media about disputes is good news for us. Our regional field advisors, often with the help of our staff in Wellington, have been working to resolve any queries with all parties concerned. Our mapping system has been a valuable tool in allowing anybody to see where there is publicly accessible land.
At the same time as providing this information the Commission is keen to encourage responsible behaviour â€“ which may mean checking in with the landowner of the adjoining property if the access is not physically separated from their farm. We are keen to maintain the culture of our grandparents where people asked and access was mostly given. In a recent survey it was found that most landowners granted permission when asked for access but it was also found that the general public were reluctant to ask.
A few weekends ago, just north of Kaikoura, I was privileged to walk over private land to see a small pool where baby seals go to play. I was disturbed to see people were ignoring the signs to keep to the paths, and also walking onto the beach to get closer to the seals despite signs clearly asking them not to. A volunteer ranger was working hard to educate people. It would be a pity if access, freely given at present, is closed to the public because people can't act responsibly.
Long may it remain that there are no news headlines about access disputes. That means that people are behaving responsibly, landowners are comfortable with allowing access, councils are working with their communities to provide access where it is needed, and the New Zealand Walking Access Commission is quietly and effectively doing its job.