A Wairarapa community fears for its survival following the sale of a large farm to a Swiss company that plans to convert about a quarter of it into forestry.
Lagoon Hill Station, near Martinborough, spans 4000 hectares and belonged to Sir Michael Fay, one of New Zealand’s richest men.
But, locals said pine trees could not support the community like farming could, with worries the conversion could take away jobs.
The farm is one of the growing number in the region switching to forestry.
Paul Cutfield, a representative for the local Tuturumuri School, told 1 NEWS: “Lagoon Hill represents the tipping point for the integrity of the community.
“It’s just gone too far, and we won’t rebuild.”
He said the future of the local school, with just a handful of pupils, is on the line.
“The way things are going at the minute, we are going to have a whole lot of vehicles rushing in and out of here, morning and night, with people living in town rushing out to an absentee-owned forestry block,” he said.
The Overseas Investment Office approved the sale earlier this month. The station had a sheep and beef farm, a private hunting block and a plantation forest.
The new owner’s plans is consistent with a shift in land use in New Zealand. Good log prices and carbon credits are driving the change to forestry.
Forest Owners Association David Rhodes said “the fear around jobs is misplaced”.
“All the statistics that we have suggest that forestry employs just as many people as farming,” he said.
In a statement, Forestry Minister Shane Jones said the Government was looking at the economic impacts of forestry and pastoral farming on rural communities.