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Forty years ago a small group of visionary individuals and farming leaders saw an opportunity to permanently protect special natural and cultural features on private land.

As a result of their hard work, the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust was established, for the benefit of the environment and future generations. 

In 1977, legislation provided the framework for the QEII National Trust to partner with landowners willing to voluntarily protect special places on their land while retaining ownership and guardianship of it. 

That partnership — and everything that goes with it… the sense of respect and philanthropy, as well as the hard work and commitment — is what we are celebrating tonight.

Today, there are more than 182,000 hectares under the National Trust’s oversight, through registered covenants, approved covenants, and formal agreements.

That’s an area similar in size to Stewart Island/Rakiura 1746 km squared.

QEII covenants protect special places, important landscapes, our biodiversity, ecosystems and many other natural features and values on private land.

They’re binding agreements that exist in perpetuity so the land remains protected even after it’s been sold or passed on to the next generation.

The responsibility of care means landowners spend a significant amount of their own resources maintaining the land for the benefit of us all.

QEII National Trust is an independent organisation, unaffected by political or policy changes.

One person in particular deserves special mention here — the late Gordon Stephenson, who will forever be remembered for the impact he had on this nation’s environmental ethos.

I want to acknowledge Gordon’s wife Celia (who unfortunately could not be here today) and Paul Stephenson who is representing the family this evening.

Gordon was instrumental to the National Trust and is the reason it’s been so successful.

He was a farming leader with an unwavering commitment to conservation and good on-farm environmental management.

In the 1970s, at a time when land clearance and maximising pastoral production was being championed, he advocated for a more balanced rural environment.

He and Celia became alarmed by the level of destruction of nature on private land, and the fact there was little that could be done to prevent it. 

Gordon socialised the idea of a protection mechanism with like-minded individuals, always knowing the idea had to come from the grassroots level if it was to succeed.

He spoke to farmers and landowners and helped navigate the political waters of the time to ensure it happened in a manner that was both pragmatic and visionary.

He was so successful in his campaign that, when the president of the local Waikato branch wrote to Federated Farmers’ National Lands Committee proposing a trust, it was met with unanimous support. 

It was that support that helped the 1975 National Government bring legislation to the House — to be passed two years later in 1977 — in the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee. 

That support remains today, in large part due to the respect that everyone involved in the conservation, preservation and use of our precious land has for the aims of the National Trust.

Today, it works hard with other agencies, including the Department of Conservation, Regional and District Councils, Heritage New Zealand and Landcare Research.

This kind of partnership, which sees private and public come together to protect and enhance our environment, is absolutely at the heart of this Government’s approach to environmental challenges — that is, practical, technical, robust policies that will deliver on our goals of a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, 90 per cent of our rivers and lakes being swimmable by 2040 and my personal favourite, Predator Free by 2050. 

Thank you to the thousands of private landowners who have covenants on their land for the benefit of our natural and cultural heritage.

I commend each and every one for their foresight and generosity of spirit in leaving a legacy for the benefit of our biodiversity, and for future generations of New Zealanders. 

Find out more about the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust at http://www.openspace.org.nz/

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