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Native Habitat Clearance Continues Under Council Eye

Forest & Bird is calling for an independent authority to take over native habitat protection, in the same way responsibility for fresh water is set to be removed from poorly performing councils.

The organisation has published an image of important habitat in the Canterbury Region which has been sprayed, cultivated, and converted to green pasture, in frustration at local councils’ inability to intervene.

Forest & Bird Canterbury Regional Manager Nicky Snoyink says “Forest & Bird’s recent investigation into illegal habitat clearance around New Zealand shows that landowners are mostly able to get away with destroying or damaging native habitat, as very few councils are willing to intervene.

“It’s really frustrating that councils in the Canterbury region continue to be unwilling to protect rare habitat in the region, despite being provided with photos of clear deliberate damage.

"The Acheron Terrace is a really important and special place because it is part of an intact dry tussock grassland home to native insects, lizards, and birds. It is increasingly under threat from development so I was really shocked to see part of it had been so quickly converted to green grass for more intensive sheep and cattle grazing,” says Ms Snoyink.

“Despite lodging a complaint with the Selwyn District Council on the 25 May 2020, and following up several times throughout the year, the council has failed to require the landowner to stop clearing native plants. They are now obstructing my reasonable enquiries by insisting they be dealt with as official information requests.”

“In a separate incident, 41 hectares of mature of matagouri shrubland was sprayed along the roadside on private land that is the gateway to Korowai Torlesse Tussocklands Park. But the Selwyn District Council is uncertain whether it breaches their rules so have opted to take an 'educational approach' with the landowner. The site is the subject of an agreement with Canterbury Regional Council for weed control, permitting spot spraying, but instead the entire area appears to have been subjected to a whole scale spray-off.

“When councils consistently turn a blind eye to blatant destruction of important wildlife, something is terribly wrong. Nature in New Zealand is down to the wire. If councils are unwilling to put good rules in place or properly enforce the rules they have, then we have to either accept the local extinction of our native species, or give the responsibility for protecting wildlife to an independent, properly funded organisation that can and will do their job.”

Selwyn District Council response to 25 May 2020 complaint re Acheron Terraces:

“After investigation and from the information available Council has made the decision not to take enforcement action on this matter in relation to the spraying and direct drilling on the Acheron terraces. This is because the area subject to the recent pasture improvements were undertaken within an area that was previously grazed and improved, albeit through a less intensive process.

There is no doubt that indigenous species have been removed as part of the recent development however, our Operative District Plan rules do allow for this to occur within an area of improved pasture as per rule 9.21.1.6 (a).

The Proposed District Plan rules are set to change in a positive way by improving the definition of improved pasture to discount such locations that contain naturally occurring indigenous species from falling under the definition of improved pasture.

Council has also opened up dialogue with ECAN in order to discuss their processes and improve communications to land owners and lease holders concerning the Biosecurity Act and removal of pest species, as this is often referenced when indigenous values are removed.”

Environment Canterbury response regarding 41 ha matagouri clearance:

“Land occupiers using requests or directives from Environment Canterbury to comply with Canterbury Regional Pest Management Plan (CRPMP) rules as reasons why they have destroyed areas of indigenous is unfortunately common place.

Environment Canterbury Biosecurity officers advise land occupiers of the requirement to control gorse and broom within specified distances from property boundaries (where the adjoining property boundary is clear of these pests) and to control gorse and broom where they occur as isolated plants or scattered patches (<50sqm) on productive pasture land to comply with CRPMP rules. Land occupiers are also advised where land is significantly infested with gorse and broom or these pests occur as isolated plants or patches within areas of non-productive pasture and/or primarily native vegetation not to

Importantly, Biosecurity officers do not stipulate control methods. Officers accept programmes to control gorse and broom based on a written commitment from the land occupier to do the required work. Land occupiers may indicate a control method, however this is superfluous to acceptance of a programme.

What we are looking at changing is advising land occupiers across the region at the time of inspection of the need to check with any District Plan rules specified for vegetation clearance when considering control methods or surrounding vegetation.

Environment Canterbury is meeting with Selwyn District Council representatives today to discuss this issue.”

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