An Australian-owned mining company wanting to operate a coal mine on the Denniston plateau on the West Coast has told a court the area's long history of mining overrides its environmental value.
Buller Coal, a subsidiary of Bathurst Resources, was granted resource consent in August 2011 to build an open cast mine over about 200 hectares on the remote plateau north-east of Westport.
Environmental groups the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and the West Coast Environment group are appealing against the consent.
Forest and Bird told the Environment Court on Monday that the land proposed for mining is part of a unique ecosystem which must be protected.
But a lawyer for Buller Coal, Jo Appleyard, says the history of the region does not support this.
"There has been an extensive and ongoing history of mining on the plateau. The proposed escarpment mine and the effects it may have on the Denniston landscape, therefore, needs to be seen in that context.
"There is abundant ecological evidence of an extensive fire history in the extant vegetation both pre- and post-European settlement."
Ms Appleyard says more than 22% of the entire plateau has been subject to underground mining since 1870.
The company already has an exploration permit for the greater area and says it accepts some parts - excluding its proposal - should be protected.
The hearing in Christchurch is expected to take six weeks.