Farmers' environmental credentials have been under attack from some quarters of late, but new research highlights just one way those who work the land also strive to look after it.
Federated Farmers welcomes a study by the University of Waikato Institute for Business Research that highlights the impact and costs of land placed under covenant via the QE II National Trust.
"Farmers have been front and centre in the activities of the QEII National Trust right from the start. We congratulate them on their 40th anniversary and for commissioning this study," says Federated Farmers environment and water spokesman Chris Allen.
When Gordon and Celia Stephenson put a four hectare stand of native bush on their farm near Putaruru under QEII covenant for permanent protection, they were the first to do so.
They were not to know that over the next 40 years, more than 4300 property owners would follow suit.
The Institute for Business Research found that covenanting land owners, the majority of whom are farmers, are together spending an estimated $25 million of their own money every year to protect native species, forests, wetlands and other special areas in their QEII covenants.
In total, the land owners have made a financial commitment of between $1.1-$1.3 billion in direct or lost opportunity costs establishing and maintaining land under covenant since the QE II Trust twas set up in 1977.
"The land surrounding 69 per cent of covenanted sites is used for grazing. While not all of the covenanted land would be suitable for farming, it's no surprise to us that thousands of farmers have voluntarily opted to permanently protect important wetland, bush and landscape sites, and to forgo revenue from it," Mr Allen says.
"These special sites have even more protection than national parks. The QEII covenants cannot be revoked by subsequent land owners."
The study said that loss of potential income from other alternative uses of land under covenant is estimated to be between $443-$638 million since 1977.
Farmers and other land owners pitch in with environmentalists, volunteers and council staff to carry out planting, pest control, fencing and other work on the covenanted sites.
"The philosophy of the late Gordon Stephenson - who was the national chairman of Federated Farmers' dairy section in the mid 1970s - was that kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, of the land for future generations was an honour rather than a chore.
"The fact is, that's an approach that is followed by farmers up and down New Zealand," Mr Allen says.