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Mapped . . . A wetland the McFaddens developed in one of their paddocks which attracted the attention of ECan’s mapping. Photo: Supplied

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Thousands of wetlands have been mapped by Environment Canterbury (ECan) using satellite images, raising the ire of a Hurunui-based advocacy group because it has been done without landowners’ knowledge.

The Rural Advocacy Network wants ECan to scrap the mapping database until it consults with landowners. It is calling on landowners to lock ECan out of their properties until a consultation process is put in place.

Network chairman Jamie McFadden says there is no issue with ECan mapping wetlands, but it has not followed due process, making what he says is a mockery of its endeavours to work collaboratively with landowners.

He says the wetland mapping only came to light when it was used by ECan when a Hawarden property owner sought a resource consent.

Mr McFadden says an Official Information Act request from the network forced ECan to reveal “what they had been doing behind closed doors”.

“There had been no affected landowner consultation, no proper Resource Management Act process and no community engagement. Following on from the riverbed lines debacle, this wetlands mapping is contrary to the collaborative intent of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and further erodes trust in ECan,” he says.

“Until then, no-one was aware of this work – no-one, including the Hurunui-Waiau zone committee or the district council,” Mr McFadden says.

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley backs the network’s concerns.

“It is simply about process and how you take the community with you and how you respect your community. That is what it is about,” he says.

He pledged nine years ago when he became mayor that he would work with the community and ECan during the review of the council’s district plan, and respect landowners so no money was spent on appeals.

“We achieved that. That was massive, and we had a fantastic relationship with ECan during the review, and got a good result for the environment and the community,” he says.

However, what was happening now under different leadership had not embraced this collaborative approach.

“This has reignited the rawness with people and the regional council,” Mr Dalley says.

He says ECan needs to visit property owners and work with them to understand its legal requirements and how they can become proud of what they have on their properties.

“Pride is the best form of protection. Having rules and compliance is the worst kind of protection,” he says.

Mr McFadden says 700 wetlands have been mapped in the Cheviot area alone using satellite images, none of which had been “ground-truthed” – that is, ECan staff visiting the property to inspect the wetlands captured by imagery.

He requested that wetlands on the McFadden property near Cheviot be removed and a consultative process be put in place. ECan wanted to inspect the wetlands first and advised him and his brother they would have to go through a process to justify them being removed.

He refused until a proper consultative process was put in place. The wetlands were eventually scrubbed from the database.

Mr McFadden says there are many reasons for landowners not allowing such ground-based observations because it is unclear what ECan is using the mapping for. It would give legitimacy to ECan’s flawed process, he suggests.

“Because the information is collected by a public agency, your private property information becomes public with all the downsides of that. There are rules
relating to stock exclusion from wetlands and waterways.”
Most wetlands are unfenced, he says.

“This is not an issue about the need to look after wetlands, but an issue about fair and proper process.”
He suggests landowners get legal advice before allowing ECan to inspect wetlands.

The network and Federated Farmers want the mapping to be scrapped and a proper community consultation process followed.

Stefanie Rixecker, the director of science at ECan, says the mapping is a “discovery layer” designed to be added to and amended. It is part of an ongoing ground-truthing process. It used aerial imagery, among other methods, to identify where wetlands may exist across
the entire region, but if anyone requested their property be removed, it “will be
removed”.

She says it is the “beginning of a conversation” and ECan wants to work alongside landowners who may have concerns or issues relating to their properties.
If there is a dispute, ECan is happy to inspect a potential wetland at no cost to
the landowner.

“We will continue to proactively support and develop our varied wetlands-related projects, central to which is working closely with landowners.”

The RMA required it to work toward clearer identification and mapping of wetlands, which arises out of the Regional Policy Statement and Land and Water Regional Plan. They are also given priority under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.