Farming development in the Mackenzie Basin over the last 20 years or so has created a lot of interest among environmental groups and individuals concerned about the impact on the landscape, water quality and its indigenous flora and fauna.

Twenty years ago, the arrival of dairying in the Upper-Waitaki, near Twizel, meant a greening of some areas, which wasn’t in line with a landscape that had been brown since burning off occurred with the arrival of Māori and Pākehā.

Dairying has since been allowed further north, near Lake Pukaki. But the rules are changing and further expansion is likely to be limited.

“The last few years have seen a very noticeable trend towards stricter environmental controls and the alignment of local authorities and Government agencies involved in new consent applications in the Mackenzie,” says Nadeine Dommisse, who chairs the group of five agencies involved in farmland development.

“Today, key matters such as land use, the landscape, water quality and quantity, vegetation clearance and biodiversity are being carefully managed and consents are being closely monitored collaboratively by the agencies involved in new consent applications.”

The agencies are Environment Canterbury, Waitaki District Council, the Mackenzie District Council, the Commissioner of Crown Lands (via Land Information New Zealand – LINZ), and the Department of Conservation.

A lot has changed around farming consents

Nadeine says Simons Pass Station, a high country farm at the southern end of Lake Pukaki, is an example of how much has changed recently around farming consents.

When a farm wishes to introduce a new activity, such as dairy farming, it has to apply for a range of consents to, for example, take or use water, discharge effluent, build infrastructure such as dairy sheds or put in a water pipeline. This means high-country farms like Simons Pass have to gain consents from up to three agencies at a time – and in the past, these agencies didn’t always know about the other consents being applied for.

For example, Simons Pass Station has consents from:

  • Mackenzie District Council for farm infrastructure (such as dairy sheds, houses and other infrastructure);
  • Environment Canterbury for land use to farm up to 15,000 dairy cows;
  • Environment Canterbury to take and use water from the Tekapo or Pukaki hydro canals for irrigation, and to dispose of effluent via spray irrigation;
  • Mackenzie District Council for infrastructure associated with an 8km pipeline to deliver the irrigation water; and
  • The Commissioner of Crown Lands (via Land Information New Zealand – LINZ) for the numbers of stock that can be carried on the land, scrub clearance, tree felling, sowing seed, topdressing, cultivation, tracking, tree planting and soil disturbance.

“Environmental rules were a little different 10 to 12 years ago when the original consents were applied for,” Nadeine says. “Since then, the Mackenzie District Council and Environment Canterbury have both introduced numerous restrictions on farming practices in order to protect water quality, landscapes and biodiversity, and monitor land use.

Joined approach to consenting and planning rules

“Additionally, LINZ has initiated a high country advisory board with a watching brief on the Mackenzie Basin.”

Today, she says, a proposal on the scale of Simons Pass would need to demonstrate compliance with much tighter rules around land use, water quality and water use, and loss of biodiversity.

The recently initiated close collaboration between all five agencies with statutory responsibilities in the Mackenzie Basin will also mean a much stronger, consistent line on managing future land-use change in the Mackenzie and a joined-up approach to consenting and planning rules.

Find out more about Simons Pass Station.

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