'Blatant and cynical rort' of environment rules condemned

Paddocks in Mackenzie, with Lake Benmore in the distance.
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Paddocks in Mackenzie, with Lake Benmore in the distance.

A South Island farm that increased its pollution tenfold in the space of a year did so in a "blatant and cynical attempt to rort the system", an environment group says. 

It fears the pollution will end up in nearby waterways, putting critically threatened species at risk.

The farm admitted to illegal activity in a resource consent application and now faces punishment.

Irrigation circles in Mackenzie.
LINZ/SUPPLIED

Irrigation circles in Mackenzie.

It comes amid growing concerns about rapid intensification in Mackenzie Basin and the degree to which rules are being enforced.

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The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) has lodged an urgent legal bid to stop farm conversions, which it said were "destroying valued landscape and ecosystems".

A camp site and boat harbour on the edge of Lake Benmore
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

A camp site and boat harbour on the edge of Lake Benmore

Several ecologists have also warned of the impact of land clearances, which one said were happening at an "unprecedented rate".

Environment group Forest & Bird has hit out at a cropping farm near Lake Benmore, which appeared to have intensified at a speed far beyond what is legally allowed.

The owners bought the property in 2014 and ramped up its usage of fertiliser, now bleeding into nearby rivers.

Its nitrogen losses increased from 6kg per hectare per year under the previous owner to 69kg/ha/yr, with no equivalent increase in stock numbers.

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The limit is 20kg/ha/yr.

The owners effectively admitted to the breach when applying for a resource consent from Environment Canterbury (ECan), arguing that if it was given permission to irrigate, it would be able to reduce its pollution to the legal limit.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield said it was a clear breach of the rules and it needed to stop immediately.

"We take this matter very seriously. We need to stop the nitrate leaching from this property as quickly as possible," he said.

ECan had sent a warning letter requiring that all cropping stop.

It would meet with the farm's consultants on Wednesday to reduce the nitrate losses urgently.

"Without swift and effective action there could be a potential environmental issue for Lake Benmore as well as effects on other landowners in the area," Bayfield said.

Forest & Bird said it appeared to be a "blatant and cynical attempt to rort the system" and could have an impact on threatened species that live in the area.

"From our perspective that's just a gross breach of the rules. ECan need to do something about this or the rules are just a joke," regional conservation manager Jen Miller said.

"These guys have massively exceeded the limits in the plan which are there to protect water quality."

It would result in a "significant amount" of nitrogen entering waterways adjoining the farm, which flow into Lake Benmore.

The rivers are home to black stilt, banded dotterel and lowland longjaw galaxias, one of the rarest species of native fish.

"If they're going to disregard the rules, it just seems contemptible. The council could surely not accept that.

"We would expect that they would prosecute, not just try and manage it through a resource consent."

The high nitrogen levels had not yet had an impact on the rivers, data showed.

A director of the farm did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

GROUPS CONCERNED

Environment groups have become increasingly concerned about rapid intensification in the Mackenzie district and the impact it could have on the landscape.

The EDS has filed proceedings in the Environment Court against the Mackenzie District Council , arguing that it was not approving conversions through its district plan. 

It also believed that ECan was approving too many water-use consents.

"We have recently become aware of the increasing pace of land use conversions which are destroying valued landscape and ecosystems," said chief executive Gary Taylor.

"Tens of thousands of hectares of the Mackenzie Basin are being transformed into irrigation circles at a fast rate."

He said internationally threatened ecosystems and a world-renowned landscape was being destroyed "with impunity".

Its legal challenge included an affidavit from ecologist Dr Susan Walker, who said the rate of land clearance was alarming.

"The scale and pace of clearance I have observed across the Mackenzie Basin in the last year is unprecedented in my 20 years' experience," she wrote.

An application now being considered would double the amount of irrigation in the basin, including clearance of at least 1250 hectares of indigenous vegetation.

It was criticised by environmental groups for threatening a "stronghold" for threatened species.

 - Stuff

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