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From solving the South Island High Country puzzle to medallist

28 October 2022

A passion for the environment and problem-solving sparked Professor Ann Brower’s interest in New Zealand’s land tenure review process, research that culminated in the passing of new legislation earlier this year.


University of Canterbury (UC) School of Earth and Environment Professor Brower’s work resulted in the 2022 Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill, making her one of the few environmental scientists who has helped protect 5% of Aotearoa New Zealand's landmass.

Professor Brower has won the 2022 UC Innovation Medal for her leading research and its national significance.

SDG 15 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 - Life on Land

Part of the criteria for achieving this award is to help translate knowledge and ideas into their adoption by the wider community, and community engagement was an important component of Professor Brower’s high country research.

“I met people where they were at. I went to campgrounds, yacht clubs and high schools. I also went to a lot of pubs. Sometimes people were receptive, sometimes not – I wasn’t always popular – but if people wanted to hear, I made sure I was there to engage.”

It was a 2005 news story about the Crown’s sale of South Island High Country that first caught her interest to what was happening in the high country. 

“The Crown was quietly transforming the Southern Alps by privatising land at a loss, with the newly freeholded land on-selling for 500 times what the Crown sold it for,” she says.

“While leaseholders had rights that needed to be compensated, those values appeared to be miscalculated, with the financial outcomes which were bad and even worse biodiversity outcomes.”

There was no other research with aspects of science, law and economics happening at that time, says Professor Brower. “It was deemed a controversial topic.”  So much so, that her research prompted the national media to label her a ‘chirpy antichrist’.

Sixteen years after publishing a report concluding that high country tenure review was win-win as advertised, only insofar as the Crown, the taxpayer, and biodiversity agreed to lose, the tenure review process ended and the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Act was passed by Parliament.

“I was elated when I found out the law reform had been axed, but it was tinged with sadness as it had taken 15 years for the Crown to stop selling land at a loss and in that time, the future of the land had changed,” says Professor Brower.

Before coming to New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar, Professor Brower studied at Yale, and UC Berkeley. Her research, and that of her students’, spans everything from the gender pay gap to various questions of conservation and engineering.

Beyond research, she aims to empower her students to change the world. “I want my students go out and make the world a better place, and for them to be able to accomplish their vision for the world and engage with the messy world of politics.”

Read more about UC Council’s 2022 medallists here.

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