A Waituna catchment farmer previously labelled one of the worst environmental offenders in Southland has been fined $35,000 for leaving animal carcasses in pits close to the threatened Waituna Lagoon wetlands.
Kevin Belling was sentenced by Judge Jeff Smith in an Environment Court hearing at Invercargill District Court yesterday.
Environment Southland compliance officer Simon Mapp had found the pits dug close to wetlands on the dairy farm during a routine inspection.
The regional council obtained a search warrant to dig up the pits and found they contained animal carcasses and other materials which could have leached into the soil and groundwater of the lagoon.
Judge Jeff Smith said this would have had an insidious long-term effect on the health of the lagoon, which is suffering from pollution and close to flipping into an algae-dominated, lifeless state.
In a dispute of facts hearing, Belling claimed that his farm workers had dug the holes too close to the water courses, but admitted he had placed carcasses into them.
Judge Smith rejected the claim Belling was not personally responsible for the holes.
Belling's offending would have had a serious impact and was at the higher, if not highest, end of deliberateness, he said.
He described his attitude as callous and cavalier.
Judge Smith granted Environment Southland an enforcement order which required Belling to produce a plan for the farm within two months, detailing the management of soil, nutrients, effluent, water quality and heritage considerations.
"If you want to continue farming in this area you are going to have to pick up your game significantly," Judge Smith said. "The court will look very unfavourably at any further offences."
In 2010, Belling was fined $60,000 for dirty dairying practices, including depositing stock carcasses into water.
At that time, compliance officer Chris McMillan said the environmental state of Belling's property was one of the worst, if not the worst, in Southland.
Belling told The Southland Times he accepted yesterday's decision. However, he claimed Mr Mapp had told him not to move the carcasses once they were discovered, a month before the warrant to excavate them was executed.
When the officer was cross-examined he said he could not remember whether Belling had offered to move the car- casses.
Environment Southland spokeswoman Michele Poole said the Judge had ruled the offer to remove the carcasses, if it took place, was immaterial.
"The carcasses had been buried for up to nine months, and some for a lesser period," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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