Fri, Jan 26, 2024 9:40 AM

Council loses appeal over wilding pines control


Maia Hart

The Marlborough District Council has lost an appeal against an Environment Court decision on its pest management plan and wilding pines on a former councillor's property.

Former Marlborough councillor Geoff Evans took the council to the Environment Court to stop the council taking over control of wilding pines on his family property Stronvar Station.

Stronvar, at the headwaters of the Waihopai, has been in Evans’ family ownership since the 1940s. Immediately north, in the Wye Catchment, the former Marlborough Catchment Board planted mainly contorta pine – the most “aggressive” pest species.

This was done for erosion control over a 370ha block, between 1959 and the mid-1980s. But over the years they spread to cover 7000ha, including the fragile “uppermost slopes” of Stronvar.

Geoff wanted a containment control zone for wilding pines on his property reinstated after the council removed it from its Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP) in 2020.

Under that plan, the council proposed to play a leadership role in “facilitating, establishing, and supporting” collaborative programmes that carried out the on-ground management of pest conifers in partnership with landowners.

The council would also employ someone to inspect land to ensure occupiers were meeting their obligations, monitor the effectiveness of control, use administrative powers under the Biosecurity Act (BSA) as a management agency.

Evans told the Environment Court in 2022 he had concerns the council’s pest control methods could damage the indigenous vegetation established amongst the conifers.

The Environment Court ruled in his favour in a decision released in March 2023, and directed the council to insert a site-led management plan for wilding pest conifers at Stronvar.

The council appealed this decision, following a debate between councillors about whether they should be spending more money on legal fees.

The appeal was heard before Justice Helen McQueen in August last year, and the High Court judgment was released on December 21.

The decision said the council had appealed on the basis that the Environment Court made errors of law which “materially affected its findings”.

The council argued seven errors of law, such as that the Environment Court “lacked jurisdiction” to direct the inclusion of a site-led programme in the RPMP, that it misapplied the BSA and the National Policy Direction for Pest Management 2015, and that the council did not consult on an amendment to the RPMP directed by the decision.

Geoff opposed the council’s appeal and said the Environment Court made no errors of law. Justice McQueen agreed – and found all seven “errors of law” alleged by the council did not stack up, therefore dismissing the appeal.

Justice McQueen directed the judgment be provided to the Environment Court, so it could make directions for the “further progression” of the matter.

The council was also ordered to pay Evans’ costs.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ on Air.

Marlborough App Logo
Marlborough App
Marlborough App is owned by Top South Media. a locally owned media company.