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Published: 2009-01-14 00:00:00

Waikato farmers are being reminded they are not allowed to graze stock in designated conservation areas on privately owned land.

The reminder – from Federated Farmers, the Upper Waikato catchment liaison sub-committee and Environment Waikato – follows a number of instances where stock have been grazing in conservation areas in the Rotorua and Taupo districts.

"The conservation areas are set out in property titles held by farmers so ignorance is no excuse for letting stock into them," said farmer Stu Kneebone, chairman of the Upper Waikato catchment liaison sub-committee.

"I appreciate that when feed is tight it can be tempting to let stock into the conservation areas but in the end it’s a false economy."

Over the past 30 years, significant areas of private land around Rotorua and Taupo have been established as conservation areas, under land improvement agreements, to help protect soil and water quality. Related works have been funded jointly by the Government, Environment Waikato and land owners.

Work has been carried out on more than 600 properties and more than 10,000 hectares has been fenced off from farming and stock use. Farmers’ obligations under the land improvement agreements include keeping stock out and maintaining fencing.

However, Federated Farmers Rotorua/Taupo provincial president and committee member Gifford McFadden said EW staff checks and reports from land owners had shown that in a number of cases farmers have been letting stock graze in conservation areas, not repairing fences and harvesting trees without the necessary approvals.

The problem could be as small as 50 metres of bad or no fence out of a total between one kilometre and 10 kilometres but it all mattered, Mr McFadden said.

"The problems are not widespread but we are all concerned about what has been happening and want to nip this in the bud.

"The land improvement agreements have helped us make considerable gains in the last 30 years controlling soil erosion and stabilizing land, and improving water quality. We don’t want to lose these gains."

Mr Kneebone said a lot of time, effort and money had gone into establishing the conservation areas and this could be undone in just days if fences weren’t maintained.

"The conservation areas and associated works are a vital part of making farming sustainable and we need to ensure they are well looked after for future generations."

EW’s Upper Waikato catchment zone manager Lawrie Donald said the council will increase the number of ground and aerial inspections around the region during the year. "We will follow up any instances of stock grazing where there shouldn’t be. The council will consider prosecutions where willful grazing persists in conservation areas."