Most farmers not clearing native bush ahead of new SNAs rules- West Coast Councillor

6:20 pm on 27 October 2021

Most farmers have no intention of destroying native bush just to get in ahead of new rules protecting significant natural areas, according to Grey Valley farmer Anton Becker.

West Coast farmland backing on to native bush.

West Coast farmland backing on to native bush. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield is advising landowners to clear potential SNAs if they can legally do so, before the new combined district plan draft comes out next January.

"I'd say get it done now -- there's going to be a big scrap over this and lots of opposition but if you can do it under the existing rules, my advice would be to do it," Councillor Birchfield said.

The Tai o Poutini Plan Committee (TTPP) -- of which both Councillor Becker and Councillor Birchfield are members -- is at an impasse over the legal requirement to identify SNAs throughout the Coast, after a desktop mapping exercise showed more than 25 percent of remaining private land could be affected.

Becker said the Grey District Council identified 74 SNAs within its boundaries some years ago, and had agreed with those landowners that any native bush outside their SNAs could be cleared without resource consent.

"That rule still stands until the new draft plan is out, so those guys could go ahead now and fell the trees, as long as they were not too close to a wetland or SNA."

The same did not apply to Buller and Westland districts, which had rules about vegetation clearance, Becker said.

The desktop exercise -- largely done from aerial photographs -- had classed 25 percent of his own farm as SNA, Becker said.

"But what it's picked up on is a lot of gorse -- it's triggered by the height of the vegetation, but it hasn't distinguished between gorse and native."

Ground-truthing would quickly sort that out, but the TTPP committee had not agreed to the next step in the SNA process, which involved a physical inspection of the mapped areas by an ecologist.

The Government and the West Coast Regional Council's own policy statement required the mapping of SNAs but some TTPP members were baulking at giving effect to it, Becker said.

"We are stuck at the moment on how to proceed. I personally think it would be best to map just the SNAs that landowners agree to. But whatever we do I don't think there will be any wholesale destruction of native bush on farms.

"Most of the land that can be developed in the Grey Valley has already been developed; I've seen a couple of guys tidying up small areas but I don't know any farmers who want to go out and clear their little patches of kahikatea."

The issue was highly political, but councillors needed to comply with the law and do what was best for the region, rather than think about their chances of re-election, he said.

Former Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne said she had heard a few people talking about clearing bush to get in before potential SNA rules came in, but had not seen any evidence of that happening.

"People have to make their own decisions. But if I had any advice it would be to think hard before felling -- biodiversity credits are a possibility in future and those native bush areas could one day have significant value -- they could become assets."

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