Court order sought

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society has gone to the Environment Court to stop further cultivation of 590ha of land above the Clutha River at south Hawea Flat.

Society field officer Jen Miller told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the society regarded the clearance and cultivation of the land last month as illegal.

Lawyers for the society had lodged an application for an interim enforcement order, which compels a landowner to comply with the Resource Management Act or a district plan.

The move follows the society's dissatisfaction with the Queenstown Lakes District Council's handling of the matter.

Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group spokesman Lewis Verduyn said he watched the agricultural contractor leave the site on Friday morning.

''Most of the site has been trashed,'' Mr Verduyn said.

''It's an ecological disaster. That's what it is.''

He recounted to the Otago Daily Times the names of rare native plants that had been ploughed up.

Council general manager, planning and development, Marc Bretherton said in an email to the ODT the council's district plan contained a list of threatened plants, and rules which referred to the list.

''The ecological report specific to the property in question identifies a single species as threatened.

''This species is not included in the district plan.''

Mr Bretherton said also that, contrary to media reports, the council had never said resource consent was not required for the cultivation work.

It investigated the concerns of the society and visited the site last Thursday where it ''confirmed that no breach of the district plan had occurred''.

''Acting on the information available, there was no basis for issuing an abatement notice or commencing enforcement proceedings,'' he said.

''When site-specific ecological advice was subsequently obtained, the landowner was contacted to advise that an ecological report and possibly resource consent would be required.

''At this point, council became aware that the site had been ploughed.''

Mr Bretherton said the council had ''not issued an abatement notice nor any other form of enforcement proceedings''. Forest and Bird lawyer Peter Anderson has written to the council advising it to issue the landowner with an abatement notice to remediate the ''damage''.

He called for a ''thorough'' ecological survey, the site not to be watered, oversown or topdressed, all grazing to cease and rabbit control to be carried out.

The council's website shows the land is owned by Big River Paradise Ltd.

-mark.price@odt.co.nz