A legal stoush is on between the Department of Conservation, siding with Forest & Bird, and the Northland Regional Council over the fate of a swathe of unique Far North wetland.

The department (DoC) has followed Forest & Bird in a bid to protect the significant Kaimaumau wetland from being mined after the council issued consents without public notification.

In April the council granted the consents to Resin and Wax Holdings to dig up 404ha of the 4000ha Kaimaumau wetland to extract kauri resin and wax. The company has not commented on the situation.

The Kaimaumau wetland has been assessed as the second most important wetland in Northland with internationally important wildlife habitat.

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The wetland is a stronghold for fernbird and other wildlife, hosts rare orchids and other threatened plants, and native mudfish and eels live in its waterways.

One of the rarest New Zealand native sun-orchids grows in the Kaimaumau wetlands.
One of the rarest New Zealand native sun-orchids grows in the Kaimaumau wetlands.

Most of the wetland, including much of the area to be mined, qualifies as a "significant natural area" under Northland plan policies, yet the council limited the input from the public and relevant entities such as DoC on the consent decision given this year.

While Forest & Bird had already taken up the fight, the Director-General of Conservation yesterday filed an application challenging the same decisions.

"We are absolutely thrilled to see DoC challenge these atrocious decisions," Forest & Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said.

Fiona Furrell, from Northland Environmental Protection Society (NEPS), said she is thrilled that ''DoC has finally become what DoC is supposed to be".

Last week NEPS celebrated its own environmental win after the Supreme Court agreed the export of unfinished swamp kauri logs and roots was a breach of New Zealand laws.

Furrell warned that Northland ratepayers, who fund the council, will pay a small fortune for the coming legal battle in the Environmental Court — added to one the NRC is already facing over water consents relating to the Kaimaumau wetland.

She said it was imperative to save the rare ''gumland wetland'' now doing well in recovery from past gumdigging, peat mining, wildfires and swamp kauri extraction.

Far North iwi Ngai Takoto is in a joint venture with Auckland-based Resin & Wax Holdings to extract waxes and resins from the peat wetland.

The company has held a mining licence for peat in the Kaimaumau area since 1991, but only in recent years has machinery been invented to extract waxes and resins by using solvents.

The idea of using solvents in a fragile, significant natural area is in itself horrific, Furrell said.