22 Sep 2008

Three convictions for damage to Canterbury wetlands

6:33 am on 22 September 2008

Two farmers and an agricultural contractor have been convicted for damaging wetlands in the Canterbury region.

The Canterbury Regional Council initiated prosecutions last year after an investigation into land that was being converted to dairy pasture.

Judge Jeff Smith fined a South Canterbury farmer Geoff Wallace and his company $15,000 for draining a wetland within the tributary of the Waitaki River, in order to install an irrigation system.

Another farmer Thomas Lister was fined $9,000 for building an earth and tyre barrier which drained the bed of Lake Wainono near Timaru.

And the North Otago Ditching and Baling company was fined $15,000 with costs of over $4,000, for draining land on Buscot Station to convert pasture land for dairy farming.

The operation lowered the water level in the Ben Omar swamp which is a wetland area gazetted and controlled by the Department of Conservation.

DoC worried by wetland destruction

The Department of Conservation is becoming increasingly concerned about the destruction of wetlands in Canterbury as land use changes.

The biodiversity ranger for North Canterbury Anita Spencer, says the department has dealt with five cases in the region this year, most of them where farmers have drained or destroyed wetlands to bring more land into production.

She says landowners often damage wetlands without realising just how important they are in providing habitats for endangered species, particularly the Canterbury mud fish which is very rare.

Ms Spencer says it is only known to be on 81 sites and only six of them have any legal protection.

She says most mud fish are on private property and in some instances its habitat is being totally destroyed.

Ms Spencer says farmers need to realise that wetlands can be a beneficial part of the farming landscape, particularly in providing vegetation on riparian margins.