An East Cape pharmaceutical company has admitted planting mānuka over at least a hectare of "regionally-significant wetland" without consent.
Tairāwhiti Pharmaceuticals has pleaded guilty to modifying and taking water from Te Whare Wetlands in breach of the Resource Management Act, after Gisborne District Council laid charges.
The company excavated 460m of channels in the wetlands to reduce flooding of its mānuka plantation, which has been used to produce mānuka oil at its Te Araroa factory.
According to a summary of facts, Tairāwhiti Pharmaceuticals founder and managing director Mark Kerr said he "wasn't aware" there was a protected wetland in the area and did not think resource consent was needed for the plantation.
The 30-hectare plantation spans across four properties owned by four different sets of multiple owners, with part of Te Whare Wetlands located within these four properties.
While the company admitted undertaking work in a protected area, how much of the land was of ecological value was disputed at a hearing at Gisborne District Court on Thursday.
The area of wetlands planted in mānuka will be finalised and presented to the court on 25 June.
The council received a complaint about the company taking water from the wetlands in February last year.
The complainant alleged it had caused a drop in the water level and reduced water clarity, but this was not confirmed.
Council officers visited the company and found recently-cultivated mānuka trees, a mobile pump connected to a hose running into the wetlands, and irrigation equipment.
Tairāwhiti Pharmaceuticals used a tractor to disc and harrow the land to create "uniform terrain" to plant 200,000 mānuka trees in rows from November 2019.
It used water from the wetlands to irrigate the young crop in January and February 2020.
In a report assessing the impact of the mānuka plantation on the wetland, council ecologist Abigail Salmond said wetlands had been reduced to 1.75 percent of their original extent in the Gisborne region.
Threatened indigenous birds, such as Australasian bittern and spotless crake, and rare native fish, such as giant kokopu, live in the wetlands.
Salmond said the potential effect of the plantation earthworks on the wetland was likely to be significant, due to a reduction in habitat.
The loss of wetland vegetation might result in increased flooding and sediment and nutrients downstream, she said.
Ecologist Hannah Dumbleton, who was brought in by Tairāwhiti Pharmaceuticals, disagreed with the extent of the effects the offending had caused to the wetlands.
Dumbleton said most of the area converted to mānuka was of a degraded, grazed nature and the value of the land to nesting and foraging birds would have been low, compared to other wetlands in the area.
The company will remediate the wetlands by filling in the drains, retiring areas of mānuka plantation in the wetland and installing a fence.
Judge Brian Dwyer remanded the company to 30 July for sentencing.
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