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With the wine industry now so important to the local economy, it might be assumed that differences between the citizens of the Marlborough district and those growing grapes would have dissipated. Yet, since the head-on court battles in the 1970s to establish the rights of landowners to grow grapes, other issues to do with the vine have taken their place. Two stand out – the voracious demands of the wine industry for water, and the effect of the vine monoculture on the landscape and ecology of the Marlborough region.
Aquifers, and water rights to access them through bores or direct pumping from surface streams and rivers, have been the traditional means of providing irrigation water. As demand for water rights has grown, the supply has dwindled, until in some areas no more water can be allocated. The Southern Valleys, with their large vineyards, intermittent streams and less abundant aquifers, are the main area of water deficit. The solution of the Marlborough District Council, after pressure from vineyard landowners in the area, was the Southern Valleys Irrigation Scheme funded by a combination of capital contributions and targeted property taxes from the users. Designed to provide water to 4000 hectares of land south of Renwick, it is now in operation.
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In 2002 the Marlborough District Council commissioned the Wairau Plain Landscape Concept Guidelines in response to considerable public concern at large vineyard expansion causing rapid landscape change on the rural Wairau Plain. A key concern is the loss of trees. Looking after the landscape and ecology of the Wairau Plain is considered of local and international importance.
The aim was to encourage, not coerce, landowners to plant native grasses, shrubs and trees on private land and that set aside for flood control, and to recapture something of the original ecology of the plain.
The guidelines identify four types of country – the Dry Plain, Spring Country, Old Dune Country, and Coastal Lands. While these categories are useful to represent the indigenous vegetation suitable for planting, they also identify the diversity of