Police have arrested 12 protesters demonstrating against a large dairy farm development in the Mackenzie Country.
Sergeant Mike van der Heyden, of Temuka, said the protesters had been asked to leave the property but had refused.
One of the protesters refused to walk from the property and had to be dragged away by police.
Police used bolt cutters and a portable disc grinder to cut the protesters free from the machinery they had been chained to since early this morning.
A police spokeswoman said the protesters were being taken to the Timaru Police Station. She said charges were likely to be laid.
Acting Mid-South Canterbury police area commander Inspector Natasha Rodley said officers had been trying to negotiate an outcome with protesters.
The Simons Pass property, just south of Lake Pukaki, is said to be the home of a variety of native flora and fauna, including the endangered black stilt (native kakī), of which there are only about 100 left.
Greenpeace sustainable agriculture campaigner Gen Toop said “for the sake of the Mackenzie and our rivers, industrial dairy expansion has to stop”.
However, the land’s crown leaseholder, Murray Valentine, said 40 per cent of the land on the proposed dairy farm is being set aside for conservation.
Valentine said they were at the end of a process which started in 2004.
“We’ve seen a lot of legal hearings and all sorts of things that have gone on – all public – to get to where we’ve got to.
“If the protest delays it for six months that would be quite serious but my understanding is it’s very cold up where they are. I hope that it doesn’t last too long.
“We are setting aside, in our plan, almost 4000 hectares of our 9500 hectares – that’s 40 per cent – which has been set aside for conservation. We’re not going to farm it.”
Valentine said the land had been set aside through an agreement reached with groups opposing the farm.
“We’ve come to that agreement. Greenpeace have just sent people down to tie themselves to vehicles.”
Greenpeace said their protesters locked themselves on to diggers and other machinery on Monday morning, disrupting construction of an irrigation pipeline for the proposed farm.
“The dairy industry has polluted our rivers and our climate for far too long,” Toop said.
“This latest incursion into the iconic Mackenzie Country shows just how extreme the industry has become.
“The Mackenzie is a fragile wilderness, home to critically endangered native species, world-renowned landscapes, and bright blue glacial lakes. It’s simply not suitable for dairy farming.
“This new mega farm is a shameful example of how the rules to protect our rivers and our environment from industrial dairying are failing.”
Toop said the Government can protect the Mackenzie by banning new dairy conversions. Greenpeace says nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition to ban new dairy conversions across New Zealand.
“To take the strain off our rivers and our climate we need to have fewer cows and [be] producing higher value dairy products.”
Mackenzie mayor Graham Smith said there had been immense pressure from various people that the development be stopped.
“It’s very hard to stop development once it’s got to this stage and those consents that he [Valentine] applied for happened many years ago and, to be absolutely fair, Murray Valentine has ticked a lot of the boxes that he was required to for development.
“I think the major point a lot of people have missed is that in getting his consents, Simons Pass has given a significant amount of land to a dry-land type park.”
South Canterbury Federated Farmers president Jason Grant said the farm owners will be under pressure to look after any significant wildlife.
Grant said he’s confident the impact of the farm on native birds is going to be slim.
“There’s a huge area in that Mackenzie Basin and a lot of the irrigation that’s going in at that new farm is relatively small. It’s not taking up the whole basin.
“I personally don’t think it’s going to have a real impact on the bird species.
“There’s still going to be a lot of native areas around … the owner of that farm is setting aside ground for native birds and native biodiversity so I think there’s quite a lot taken up in that.”
Grant said the proposed farm covers a huge area of land, not all of which will be irrigated.
“Not all of it’s getting developed. [The owner] is setting aside a lot of ground for biodiversity and that’s a real big plus, as opposed to the way it was probably farmed in the past.
“Also too with some of the irrigation in the Mackenzie Basin, there’s soil erosion from wind damage and the dry climate has been quite an issue in the past, but you don’t tend to get that with irrigated ground so there are positives for the environment when you irrigate some of that ground.
“Now with the rules that are in place, especially in the Mackenzie Basin, there would be no way that someone would get away with breaking the rules.”
Forest and Bird regional manager for Canterbury and Westland Nicky Snoyink said it supported Greenpeace’s call for ending intensive farming in places such as the Mackenzie Basin.
“Forest and Bird have fought hard for almost a decade against this type of destructive, intensive development and this sort of intensification has effectively destroyed the vast, brown landscape that New Zealanders know in the Mackenzie Basin.
“The loss of those big, beautiful landscapes have contributed to the loss of habitats and lots of rare animals and plants – some of them only known in the Mackenzie Basin .. that’s pretty problematic in our view.”
By: MARK QUINLIVAN