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Island Hills – Converting Useable Farmland into Freehold Titles

UAV Aerial Surveying

Converting Useable Farmland into Freehold Titles

There’s nothing the Fox team likes more than a challenge, and the Island Hills Tenure Review was quite a big one.

Island Hills was a 5400-hectare farm in the High Country west of Culverden in North Canterbury. It was one of around 300 so-called pastoral leases which were spread through the high country of Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago. The Crown retained ownership of these properties but leased them out to farming families.

From the late 1990s onwards the Crown has been working with the lessees of these properties to separate off the land with high conservation value and convert the useable farmland into freehold titles, in a process known as Tenure Review. Around 140 of the original leases have been through this process.

Island Hills Tenure Review
Left: Members of the Fox team are airlifted from their 'base camp' onto the boundary ridge.
Right: Rock boundary cairn established by pioneer surveyor John Turnbull Thompson in the 1860s.

Fox & Associates had previously undertaken the Tenure Review survey of the Glenrock pastoral lease in the Rakaia Valley, and both Craig McInnes and Alex Liggett have had many years’ previous experience in work of this type.

In early 2020 Fox & Associates were engaged by Landward Management Ltd on behalf of LINZ to undertake a survey defining the new boundaries of Island Hills. Around 1600 hectares of remote wilderness was to be transferred into the Conservation estate, and the remainder of the land would become freehold owned by the Shand Family, who have farmed Island Hills for several generations.

UAV Aerial Surveying
Left: Part of the rugged boundary ridge. | Right: One of the stream boundaries we surveyed

We enlisted the skill and local knowledge of Hanmer Springs based Amuri Helicopters, and their MD 520N aircraft was made available to the team for the duration of the project. The Fox team of Craig McInnes, Alex Liggett and Morgan Bothwell enjoyed the experience of being airlifted into position, but walking off the scrub and forest clad hills was often hard going.

One highlight was finding a pair of boundary cairns from the original survey of the property by pioneer surveyor John Turnbull-Thompson in the 1860s.

As well as the new ridge boundary we had to define the boundaries with the many streams and rivers running through and around the property. Mostly these were able to be digitised from aerial photography, but some were not visible and we had to fly/walk in to measure these.

UAV Aerial Surveying Map
One of the 37 sheets of survey plans

Once the fieldwork was done the next challenge was to undertake all the calculations and format the survey data for upload into the Land Information NZ Landonline database.

A few issues were found in integrating the data into Landonline, which is where the Fox team’s experience in complex datasets and strong relationships with LINZ personnel paid off. All the problems were eventually resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and we could get on with preparing survey plans.

The survey being a bit bigger and more complex than the average subdivision, there were a total of 37 sheets of plans, all of which were drawn by Fox & Associates’ expert in plan presentation Michelle Hayes.

Once these plans were reviewed by all stakeholders and approved by LINZ, Fox and Associates prepared some additional graphics to support the various legal actions.

Good things take time, and due to the COVID lockdown and the various Landonline integration problems, the entire project took almost exactly one year.

It was with a sense of great satisfaction, but also some relief that we closed our file on this project, but the team are always looking forward to the next opportunity for an adventure.


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