The Press Online
November 19, 1999

Hobbits in Kepler Mine Upset Forest and Bird
Rosemarie North

The Royal Forest and Bird Society has taken issue with the Department of Conservation for allowing Lord of the Rings filming on protected land. Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced on Friday that crews would be allowed to film on National Park land in Fiordland and Central Otago.

Forest and Bird's southern conservation officer Sue Maturin said she was disappointed Lord of the Rings production company Three Foot Six Ltd had been granted consent to film in the Kepler Mire in the Te Anau basin. "Frodo and his hairy hobbit friends with their large attendant film crews may severely damage sensitive landscapes," Ms Maturin said.

Filming in some areas could involve bringing 30 equipment trucks, 10 caravans and up to 200 staff on to some sites for up to nine days at a time, she said. "National Parks are meant to be preserved as far as possible in their natural state and commercial concessions are supposed to avoid annoying other park users," Ms Maturin said.

Forest and Bird had made a submission to the Department of Conservation against filming in The Kepler Mire. It pointed out the mire was an ancient string bog, unusual in the southern hemisphere. The wetland contained rare and delicate plants and was an important habitat of the grey duck, New Zealand fern bird and Australasian bittern. Filming is expected to take place during the birds' breeding season.

"It will be difficult, if not impossible, for film crew and cast to avoid the sensitive areas and any restoration would severely detract from the existing natural values," the submission said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Smith said the crew had to work hard to get the consents. A conservation officer would be present constantly when the crew was working in environmentally sensitive areas and, at other time, the officer would check on filming several times a day.

The company had paid a $50,000 bond in case damage was done and agreed to meet 77 conditions in an extensive 40-page document. "They're being really, really careful," she said. Under the terms of the consent, battle scenes and extensive use of horses will not be allowed.

The company will meet Ngai Tahu representatives before filming starts to gain a Maori perspective on the land. Other groups were also consulted.

Filming of the $360 million movie trilogy is due to take place around Te Anau, Fiordland, the Wakatipu basin and Mt Owen, near Murchison, during the next few months.