Farmers 'penalised' by survey system

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014

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Conservation-minded farmers are annoyed about being penalised by agreeing to wetlands and other natural assets being surveyed, when other Hurunui farmers don't have rulemakers coming down hard on them.

Members of the Hurunui SNA Group says the Resource Management Act (RMA) disadvantages them, and the group is urging farmers to not allow any more surveys on private land, trapping them in the RMA system, until the legislation is changed.

The group's farmers say they have to apply for resource consent to fertilise around listed Significant Natural Areas (SNA), when non-surveyed landowners are free of these requirements.

Interested farm buyers have shied away from at least one farm because of its SNAs, and other farmers are worried that this will lower their own land values.

Group spokesman Jamie McFadden said landowners had chosen to leave and care for native bush on their land when they could have easily cleared it.

"These landowners feel aggrieved and angry that seemingly because of their generosity in protecting native bush on their land, they are then trapped in a compulsory regulatory system that does nothing to help them continue to look after these areas."

McFadden is a Hurunui farm- raised landscaper specialising in planting native plants on farms.

He said QEII Trust covenanting was a much better system, as landowners agreed to conditions that could not be changed without their agreement, and the trust helped with fencing and weed control.

"With the RMA-SNA regulatory system, landowners have no choice, there is no flexibility on rules - one size fits all - and the rules can change at any time, even without the landowner's knowledge or approval."

McFadden said that when landowners worked with the Hurunui District Council on a biodiversity strategy for the district, they never expected that Environment Canterbury could come over the top and apply its rules to SNAs on private land, such as not applying fertiliser within 10 metres of listed natural assets.

The regulations were counterproductive, because native shrubs and trees were being cleared by landowners unwilling to be caught in the system or by future rules, he said.

"The issue with the survey - and we found this on our own family farm - is once you allow the information to be gathered from your property, any council can use that to seek regulations over you.

"We are under this regulatory structure in the Hurunui district plan, yet our neighbours have the same bush, but we are covered with the regulations and they are not."

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McFadden said his parents fenced off a native bush area 30 years ago next to cropping land, and were now bound to apply for resource consent to fertilise alongside the area, unlike nearby farmers.

"You expose yourself to being penalised by the regulatory system, and we wished we had never done the survey."

He said his parents looked after their farm environment at their own cost when the government in the 1970s was paying subsidies for farmers to develop farmland from scrub.

District councils should be allowed to come up with their own systems along with landowners and the community, he said.

The Hurunui SNA Group consists of landowners protecting native areas on their properties.

Chairman Fran Perriam, a farmer from Greta Valley with two QEII Trust native bush covenants on her property, said group members trustingly allowed surveys but now found themselves trapped in the RMA system.

"Many landowners throughout New Zealand are allowing surveys without realising the consequences.

"We were horrified to find [that] having your property listed in a district plan can decrease your property value, lead to all sorts of unreasonable restrictions, and expose you to prosecution."

McFadden said there were more examples of groups of farmers reminding neighbours of their environmental responsibilities, and fewer farmers giving farming a bad name.

The increase in QEII covenanting and private planting initiatives showed that farmers worked best with the carrot approach rather than the stick, he said. The Hurunui SNA Group has launched a national "Say No To Access" campaign calling for legislative change.

- The Press

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