27 Aug 2021

National, environment groups take aim at government over delay to winter grazing rules

2:17 pm on 27 August 2021

The government is under fire over its delayed roll out of new winter grazing regulations.

Cows stand in mud after winter grazing.

Cows stand in mud after winter grazing (file image). Photo: Geoff Reid

The regulations, aimed at improving animal welfare and environmental outcomes were supposed to come into effect from May this year.

But there has been a lot of pushback from the farming sector, which described the rules as unworkable.

The government has now proposing changes to the rules which is said would make them more practical, and it has also pushed back the start date another six months to November 2022.

National Party agriculture spokesperson David Bennett said the government had failed.

"It's taken a year since these rules were announced, prior to the last election for the government, for them to admit its failure to deliver a realistic freshwater policy.

"It was doomed to failure from the start. There have been constant reviews, amendments, recalculations - and now retrenchment from the original policies. The government failed to listen to farmers and only now, under sustained political pressure, has it sought to make changes."

The government's failure to act meant a year had passed without the better environmental outcomes that were initially sought, Bennett said.

Meanwhile, environmental group Choose Clean Water NZ said the delay was a backdown by the government.

Spokesperson Marnie Prickett said farming lobby groups had been given too much of a voice at the cost of the environment.

"The risk for the government is that they need to stay the course and stay strong on its role for improving fresh water, they've got the backing of the public on this, they've got a mandate to restore New Zealand's waterways," Prickett said.

"I can see the logic in pushing back t he regulations although I am disappointed there won't be rules in place next season, because we see the enormous damage that winter grazing has on the environment."

Forest and Bird's Otago-Southland regional conservation manager Rick Zwaan said the government's delay in action this winter saw large amounts of winter grazing leading to sediment pouring into streams and rivers polluting the homes of native fish.

"Regional councils are doing a terrible job of monitoring and undertaking compliance action this winter. In Southland there are 3500 farms undertaking intensive winter grazing, many on steep slopes and across critical source areas. Yet Environment Southland only followed up a handful of complaints with only one still under investigation," Zwaan said.

"Someone taking a cursory look around the region would see far more bad practice then that."

It was good to see the government was progressing with some controls like capping the maximum slope at 10 degrees, he said.

"We know the steeper the slope the more sediment will flow off, and protection of critical source areas - the places where water collects in paddocks and flows into streams - is positive too but there needs to be a buffer around these. There needs to be much clearer guidance on pugging otherwise it won't be worth the paper it's written on with no ability to enforce them."

"Relying on farm plans without clearer rules and enforceability creates a licence to pollute and I'm not confident it'll quickly clean up our rivers ."

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