Council under fire as stock allowed in rivers

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 04/02/2014
Takaka River

CLEAN GREEN? Photographed by a visitor to the region, these cattle enjoy cooling their heels in the Takaka River.

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Stock are allowed in Tasman rivers but the practice is rare, and there are tighter standards for dairy herds, says the council and farming leaders.

However, Fish & Game says the lack of compliance teeth in the Tasman District Council's rules for stock in waterways is "incomprehensible", particularly with the heightened debate over water quality.

The issue was highlighted when a Christchurch visitor to Golden Bay emailed photos, taken last month, to the Nelson Mail of stock in the Takaka River near Long Plain Rd, querying the existence of council regulations.

Tasman district does not have compliance rules around keeping stock out of waterways, relying on Fonterra's sustainable dairying water accord to capture intensive milking herds.

However, no similar council rules exist for dry or beef stock farmers.

Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game manager Neil Deans said the district's councillors voted against a stock exclusion rule in part IV of the Tasman Resource Plan two or three years ago.

It was now a permitted activity for stock to enter or pass "across any bed of a river or lake" if it complies with certain conditions.

Mr Deans said Fish and Game suggested to the council farmers could still graze riverbanks but would need to put up temporary electric fences to keep stock out of the water.

"But the council decided in its wisdom it would be okay to run stock in rivers.

"This essentially means it is impossible to enforce any compliance - and if there is no recourse to compliance there is nothing we can do."

Mr Deans said the situation was disappointing for the public, who made no distinction between dairy and beef cattle.

"And it's incomprehensible the council say this is okay after all the national debate we have had on New Zealand's water quality."

However, Federated Farmers Golden Bay president, dairy farmer and spokeswoman for the Aorere Catchment Project, Sue Brown, said it was hard to make one rule for all, and the council's strong water quality rules meant any issues would quickly be identified.

She said the images showed only a few cattle had access to the river, not an intensive dairy herd, and their impact was likely to be negligible. Seeing stock in waterways today was rare, so any examples stood out.

Electric fencing was difficult on rocky river banks and then required reticulated water to be supplied to animals.

"We have to be realistic and consider the farming system - if there was a compliance issue, there would be action. I'm not going to defend the practice, but we have to keep it real," Mrs Brown said. "It would be different if it was an intensive farming system."

The council's spokesman, Chris Choat, said its rules allowed stock to access waterways provided they met certain conditions. Only dairy herds were restricted to specific crossing rules due to the scale of their impacts.

"Outside of the dairy herds, cattle such as those in the photographs are not necessarily prevented from access to the banks and beds and for any strict intervention it would fall to council to firstly prove an effect on water quality is occurring in breach of these restrictions.

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"In most situations such as depicted, low numbers of cattle grazing the berms and edges will not typically breach these restrictions even if the stock can and does access the bed. This makes enforcement action unlikely in these cases."

However he said the council acknowledged the visual effect of stock in waterways was undesirable and it tried to work with farmers to improve environmental practices across all sectors, not just dairy. "Although it goes without saying that dairy is where the district and national focus is."

The new Sustainable Dairying Water Accord, which replaced the expired Cleans Streams Accord, was a self-imposed dairy industry accord and as such related only to dairy herds.

The beef and sheep industry had no accord and was not bound by this document.

Mr Choat said when cases such as this came to light the council would contact landowners and discuss restricting access, as has been the case here.

- The Nelson Mail

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