Forest & Bird join artists to save the Mackenzie

Independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird and a group of prominent New Zealand artists came together today to highlight the growing development threats to the Mackenzie Country, one of the jewels in the crown of our natural heritage.

Renowned South Island landscape painter Grahame Sydney is among the artists lending their support to Forest & Bird’s Save the Mackenzie Country campaign as part of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts exhibition, Artists as Activists, which opens on Saturday in Wellington.

“The experience of the Mackenzie Basin holds a particularly powerful grip on the imaginations, emotions and memories of untold numbers of New Zealanders and tourists,” Sydney says.

The rapid spread of huge pivot irrigators in the Mackenzie for dairy farming and crops is jeopardising a magical landscape of blue and turquoise lakes framed by tawny tussock and the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps.

Wilding pines and rabbits are invading the tussock, and an ad-hoc approach to land use management has already turned the southern part of the basin into an unsightly mishmash of paddocks, pivot irrigators and private developments, Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Nicola Vallance says.

“New Zealanders love the Mackenzie Country and the current policies and processes have failed to safeguard the landscape.
Forest & Bird is calling on the Government to come up with a clear vision to protect this national treasure,” Vallance says.

“We are asking New Zealanders to support our proposed drylands conservation park, which would ensure permanent public protection for an important part of the Mackenzie Country, and for improved planning procedures to protect the unique character of the basin.”

Academy of Fine Arts president Ian Hamlin, fellow artist Jane Zusters and Sydney spoke at today’s event about the importance of the Mackenzie Country to their lives and their work, and poet Brian Turner provided poems for use in the campaign and exhibition.

Sydney says the “insidious and utterly inappropriate greening”
of the Mackenzie threatens a priceless and unique landscape.

“Is there political will to concede that some values matter more than temporary profit? The Mackenzie Basin issues are a critical litmus test,” he says.

As part of the Artists as Activists exhibition, Canterbury artist Sam Mahon has produced a mechanical bust of Environment Minister Nick Smith made from cow dung. This is a repeat of his protest last year over the Government’s lack of action over the impact of pollution of waterways by intensive dairy farming.

Vallance says the voices of the artists are of great value in the battle to save the Mackenzie Country.

“The support of the artists for this campaign is very important to Forest & Bird because their work expresses the awe and sense of wonder we all feel when we experience unique landscapes like the Mackenzie Country,” she says.

“They can make tangible the connection we New Zealanders have with the land in a way it is often difficult for the rest of us to express.”

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