Environment Waikato is reminding farmers about rules preventing the draining or clearance of ecologically important wetlands.
It follows an increasing number of reports that farmers have been taking advantage of the drought’s dry conditions to get into previously inaccessible wetland areas to carry out drainage and vegetation clearance works.
As a result, the regional council is investigating a number of alleged breaches of rules regarding installing new drains or clearing vegetation in or near specified, ecologically significant wetlands without a resource consent.
The specified wetlands listed in the Waikato Regional Plan are home to ecologically significant populations of animals and plants, and the rules are designed to protect them.
However, the council’s environment services programme manager Ross Wightman said reports of farmers carrying out drainage and vegetation clearance operations in or near listed and other wetlands had increased significantly in recent weeks.
“It appears farmers are taking advantage of the drier conditions resulting from the drought to get earthmoving equipment into previously inaccessible areas.
“Large parts of wetland areas may be bone dry now but those areas may continue to be significant habitats for native plants and animals.”
“We want to remind people of the rules regarding listed wetlands, and also ask that farmers carefully consider doing anything that could drain or affect any wetlands.
“Wetlands are like nature’s kidneys in that they lessen nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment run off from land into waterways – that’s crucial to protecting the health of rivers and lakes in our region.
“We’re happy to provide detailed advice on the rules, and provide detail on the benefits of wetlands for any farmers requiring further information.
“We’d much rather work with farmers to address this issue rather than take action against them. However, where there have been breaches of the rules we will certainly have to look at our legal options.”
The Waikato Regional Plan specifically requires that resource consents be obtained before undertaking the creation of new drains or the deepening of existing drains or vegetation clearance that may affect any wetland containing significant native animal or plant habitat.