Scenery preservation 1903-1953

Page 5 – The Scenery Preservation Act

The Scenery Preservation Act 1903

Politician Harry Ell was the strongest advocate of scenery preservation in the early 20th century. He raised the issue of legislative protection for the environment in Parliament more than 20 times between 1901 and 1903 alone. His call for the reservation of 'representative' areas of forest got limited political support. He could not convince Richard Seddon to include preservation of forests for aesthetic and ecological as well as tourism reasons in the 1903 Scenery Preservation Bill. Conservation was fine in theory. In practice it was still alien to the notion of appropriate use of productive land in a frontier society.

The Scenery Preservation Act 1903 embraced some of the ideas of conservation, but it was more about tourism and the new awareness of the cultural value of scenic and historic sites. Most sites were chosen as much for their ease of access, tourist potential and picturesque setting as for their representative value and historical significance.

The act built on earlier legislation to reserve thermal springs, but it was New Zealand's first law specifically designed to protect sites of scenic and historical interest. The government set aside ₤100,000 for the compulsory purchase of private land. Maori-owned land could also be taken. In this case, payment was made to the Public Trustee who invested the money and paid the income to the Maori owners. Once land had been declared a reserve, its special characteristics were protected, and anyone damaging these – taking timber or damaging scenery – could be fined up to ₤100.