High country farmers have had their right to irrigate upheld by the High Court:
Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society took corporate farmer Five Farms and the Waitaki District Council to court for a judicial review of the council’s granting “conditional certificates of compliance” to high country farming operations.
The practice allows farmers to avoid requiring a resource consent to develop their land, but with restrictions on native vegetation clearance. The WDC case involves farmland also designated as part of the WDC’s scenic rural zone.
Forest & Bird was successful on other issues, getting the conditional certificates declared “illegal” and established “at the least the possibility of vast tracts of indigenous vegetation in areas where the proposed activities were to be undertaken.”
Planned arable cropping in the area did constitute native vegetation clearance, Justice Christine French ruled.
She agreed, as did all counsel, that native vegetation in the dry Waitaki Valley environment would disappear within a year or two, if not months, once an area became irrigated.
But the WDC’s rules did not specifically nominate irrigation as a cause of native vegetation clearance.
Whether irrigated or not farming will have an impact on the land. But what would happen if the area wasn’t farmed at all?
Nature isn’t static. Not far from this area is the Linids Pass scenic reserve. The glorious golden tussocks thrived there when the land owned by farmers who grazed and top dressed it. Now it is under DOC control and has no stock or fertiliser the tussock is disappearing.
It might be replaced by whatever was there before it was farmed in time – but at the moment it looks like the only thing growing is hieracium.