Two men face a possible jail term for allegedly draining a protected wetland to dig up expensive swamp kauri.

In the first case of its kind in the Environment Court, the Northland Regional Council has accused Raymond Bird and Gary Beckham of breaching a court order and is seeking three-month prison sentences for the pair.

The three-day contempt of court hearing starts today. Council officers are expected to give evidence that Bird and Beckham deliberately ignored the Environment Court order for 18 months.

Bird is the sole director and shareholder of a company which owns 940ha of land, a wetland called the Kaimaumau Swamp, about 30km north of Kaitaia.


The council issued an abatement notice in December 2010 to stop any earthworks or land clearance. This was allegedly breached, and the council successfully sought an enforcement order from the Environment Court in April 2011. Charges under the Resource Management Act were also laid against the two men, as well as their companies.

A second enforcement order was issued to install weirs and repair any damage, as well as forbidding any earthworks, drainage or the removal of swamp kauri logs.

But inspections by council officers allege that the orders had been ignored and further RMA charges have been laid.

Photographs taken by neighbours show kauri logs being removed by trucks belonging to Beckham's company and stored at a property belonging to him.

Resource consent for some development work was later granted in certain parts of the property.

A date for the jury trial is yet to be set.

But in a legal first at the Environment Court, the council is also seeking a contempt of court ruling for alleged repeated breaches of the enforcement orders.

The wetland is considered one of the most important in Northland. Swamp kauri is a lucrative trade, known as the "black gold rush" in the north.