Farmer denies illegal drain dug in wetland

Last updated 12:00 16/08/2012

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A farmer accused of illegally digging a drain in a Rarangi wetland says he had dug the same ditch into the wetland twice before.

Philip John Woolley is facing four charges in Blenheim District Court relating to digging the 200-metre channel in the Hinepango wetland on May 8, 2010. The defence says Woolley was only clearing an existing drain as allowed under the law.

Woolley gave the wetland to Marlborough District Council as part of a resource consent agreement for a subdivision in 2006.

He told the court yesterday he had cleaned the drain going into the wetland in 1990 and 2000, digging out a channel and clearing trees on one side to make a path. He was told about the drain by council surveyor Frank Bonnington in 1990.

The Crown maintains there had not been a drain in the wetland since 1956 and Woolley dug a new drain. Crown prosecutor Jackson Webber said Mr Bonnington did not record a drain on a 1980 survey he took of the wetlands.

In a series of fiery exchanges with Mr Webber, Woolley maintained he dug the same distance in 2010 and 1990, but also insisted the 1990 work ended at a bump 50 metres short of where the 2010 work ended.

The pair also clashed over a plan Woolley commissioned in 2000, showing the drain stopping at the edge of the wetland. Woolley said the line had been drawn as a rough estimate of the drain, which was never accurately measured.

He did not do any serious damage to the wetland, only work that was necessary for maintenance, he said. The damage was not visible, as the wetland had regenerated around it.

He still viewed the wetland area where the drain was as his, because it was vital for draining his land.

Woolley's lawyer, David Clark, said the wetland was zoned rural zone four, meaning it was not protected conservation land and drain maintenance was allowed.

The first two charges against Woolley related to work done on a river, but the Crown was also trying to say the land was wetland and it could not be both, Mr Clark said.

Surveyor Terry McGrail said there was no evidence of a river in any official documents or surveys he had done, but evidence up to 1956 clearly showed a drain going across the wetland along the same line where Woolley dug.

An application by the defence to dismiss one of the charges was denied yesterday. The trial will not be held today but is expected to finish tomorrow.

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- The Marlborough Express

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