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Forest and Bird report ‘misleading’

Waikato Regional Council is disappointed with a Forest and Bird report regarding compliance monitoring and enforcement in the dairy sector in the 2016/17 dairy season. 

The report released today contains information the council believes is outdated, inaccurate and misleading for the state of compliance and enforcement in the Waikato region two years ago.

Council staff are concerned that Forest and Bird has not sought to check data and information they have received from various sources regarding the Waikato region. “It is apparent there has been no peer review of the report from anybody experienced in compliance, monitoring and enforcement of the Resource Management Act,” said resource use director, Dr Chris McLay.

Waikato staff acknowledge that prosecution data given to Forest and Bird for the report was incorrect in stating no prosecutions had occurred over that season. In fact, council took more than 180 enforcement actions for breaches of the RMA on dairy farms in 2016/17, including four prosecutions – the third highest number in the country that year.

 “While no-one likes to be rated poorly, I am confident we are doing a good job. The Waikato farming sector is well aware that when we find non-compliance, we hold people to account. Only in the past week a Waikato farming company was convicted and fined $41 000 for environmental breaches. That is a clear message in anyone’s books,” said Dr McLay. 

“The report is accurate in identifying that we have the largest number of dairy farms in the country. We have a very proactive team who monitor these farms and another team who responds to complaints from members of the public about poor farming practice. In an ideal world we would inspect every farm every year, however that would be a huge burden on ratepayers of the Waikato.”

The report was critical of the council using announced visits two years ago. However, announced visits enabled staff to meet one-on-one with farmers to discuss their farm systems and other on farm matters, including minor earthworks, the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora plan change and water consents.

“We are at a place now where a significant portion of the farming population have or are attempting to improve their systems, and working with them one-on-one has helped,” Dr McLay said.

In June this year, the council announced it was adopting a more risk-based monitoring programme, combining one-on-one site visits of high risk farms with aerial inspections which could include using satellite imagery, drones, fixed wing aircraft or helicopters.

“There are some farmers who will not comply without us using other tools at our discretion,” said farming services manager, Nicole Botherway.

“Our new way of monitoring has only been in place for just over a month, and it is targeting high risk farms. That means it’s not surprising we’re picking up higher levels of non-compliance than we were previously, but it’s too soon to tell if this trend will continue,” Ms Botherway said.

The Forest and Bird report does not consider changes the council has made since the 2016/17 dairy season, making their findings and recommendations outdated, the council said.

The council suggests the public consider the deficiencies of the report relating to the Waikato region and wider regional sector and has suggested Forest and Bird reconsider the methodology in their review of compliance, monitoring and enforcement.

Below are the enforcement actions that have been taken by Waikato Regional Council over the last three years, specific to breaches of the RMA on dairy farms.

Enforcement action

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

Formal warning

55

111

107

Infringement notice

17

26

40

Abatement notice

10

39

33

Prosecutions

3

4

6

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