By Jacqui Hahn, Federated Farmers Waikato President
When will the foolish regulations stop?! Only when people look in depth at the various parties’ policies around agriculture and are smart about who they vote for.
Reports from the Rural Support Trust show they’ve never had demand like they have had in the past few months.
The Ministry for the Environment, as we know, is very cavalier with its authority to regulate. Bureaucrats dream up broad-brush regs that capture all and sundry. When these errors are pointed out to MfE by multiple parties, officials just shrug their shoulders and declare that it’s up to the regionals councils’ discretion.
Well, that’s not actually true. Once a complaint is made then the regional council must apply the law itself not their own discretion.
In the case of wetlands, for example, this captures many people. Anyone wanting to mow grass or any vegetation within 10 metres of a ‘wetland’ – no matter how small – needs a consent. You would also need a resource consent for any earthworks (with exception of planting plants) within 100m of that area.
According to the MfE’s definition, a wetland is any area that tends to be damp and has less than 50% pasture species.
To demonstrate the folly of all this, check the photo of Te Awamutu’s Memorial Park. Under the new wetland rules, mowing the lawns at the park would break the law as they are within 10 metres of a wetland. If the grounds keepers wanted to do earthworks within a 100 metres of the duck pond that too would also be an issue.
How many thousands of people across New Zealand are breaking these rules without knowing?
We also have a local school that could potentially be up for a visit and a fine/time in court. This school has planted flax over the top of a drainflow coil-filled in drain. This would have been done originally for health and safety of children and users of the parks that predominate this area of town, which was originally a wetland. Now that water has been backing up for weeks on end and is killing the grass, the school could fall foul of the law in that the flooded area could be counted as wetland. They should by law, if it can be understood, apply for consent to mow the playing field within 10m of the ‘wetland’.
Of course, they will also fall foul if they try to remove the ‘wetland’. So damp spots, fish ponds, let alone the vast areas across farmland, are now at the mercy of any neighbour from hell. There are literally thousands of examples around you in town or country prone to that one petty, unpleasant person dobbing you in for breaching the law. It has already started, with the odd case having already happened since the law came to pass.
Once you start thinking about how many areas are sometimes wet and less than fifty percent pasture, you see them everywhere. Even a gully full of blackberry or a bank covered in ‘Wandering Willie’ (Tradescantia). It would be useful to start to post everyday examples of normal landscapes that are now protected wetlands. Blur out any people and signage pinpointing the location of course. Post it on Facebook so people understand just how stupid this regulation is.
With so many wetlands, regional councils don’t have the capacity to prosecute every law breaker they see. But this again points to the problem with the law: by being so broad it allows huge discretion for councils to pick and choose who they prosecute and who they ignore.
Another point that bugs me is that as wetlands are the livers of the land in that they generally reduce nutrients in water, we now have to prevent runoff getting there. Critical source points generally turn into a wetland and the only way to prevent it really is to build a constructed wetland prior to the remaining wetland. It’s all a bit nuts – and where does it end?
The so-called ecosystem dollar value of natural wetland is drastically reduced, apart from its biodiversity, which could just disappear all by itself from increasing dry spells.