Motutapu Farms and the Department of Conservation have been forced to apologise by the courts after allegedly burying dead cows on an archaeological site on Motutapu Island.
Heritage NZ laid charges over Motutapu Farms, its owner Rick Braddock and farm manager Graeme Robertson, and the Department of Conservation breaching the archaeological provisions of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act, court documents show.
Heritage New Zealand rarely prosecutes over a disturbance of archaeological sites and this is the first time it has gone after DOC.
The parties were granted diversion at Auckland District Court earlier this year and will have the charges wiped once they have completed some court-ordered conditions. The diversion conditions are confidential.
Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Tribal Trust chairman James Brown first raised concerns about the breach in early 2018 and pushed Heritage New Zealand to take action.
Brown told the Herald at the time that 49 cows had been buried in a hole dug between 26 and 29 December 2017 at Motutapu Island without consulting iwi or Heritage New Zealand, causing some damage to a midden site within the burial. It was later confirmed the cows had been buried in spot where there was a midden hidden underground as it was not identified on the map. Middens contains shells and other food refuse left by early Maori.
Damage to an archaeological site by any person who knows or suspects the site is an archaeological site is an offence under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014. The maximum penalty for an organisation breaching the act is $120,000 and $60,000 for an individual.
Motutapu Farms director Rick Braddock said the company had now completed the diversion conditions agreed with Heritage New Zealand after making a verbal apology to Ngai Tai Ki Tamaki at a hui on 26 June 2019. Its charges were formally dismissed by the Auckland District Court on 28 June 2019.
Braddock said Motutapu Farms followed DOC's policy regarding the burial of the cows, but that protocol was currently being review by DOC and Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki.
DOC also apologised to the trust at the Umupuia Marae, but is yet to complete another condition of its diversion which is being supervised by Heritage NZ and is due to report back to the courts November 12, 2019. The charges will also be dismissed if the diversion is successfully completed.
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DOC Auckland operations director Andrew Baucke said he could not comment on the details of the case or proceedings while it was still before the courts, but confirmed it was the first time the department had been prosecuted by Heritage NZ.
Baucke said DOC has apologised to Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki since the disturbance happened in 2017 and was taking a number of steps to ensure it doesn't happen again.
A new survey of the archaeological sites on the island using differential GPS was being carried out to provide far more accurate location data for the almost 400 known heritage features on the island. A new heritage management plan for the island is also being completed over the next year.
Staff and concessionaires have also been reminded of the importance of protecting heritage sites, he said.
The Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said she had also apologised to Ngai Tai ki Tamaki for the disturbance to the land when she met with them in January. The parties met on Motutapu to sign a Conservation Relationship Agreement to manage natural resources and heritage on the island.
Heritage NZ senior legal adviser Geraldine Baumann said HNZ rarely prosecuted for damage to archaeological sites and there had only been about 25 charges laid since 2003.
The decision to prosecute depended on the level of knowledge the alleged offender had of the archaeological values of the place, the importance of the place in question, whether it was a first or second offence and other factors specific to the individual case.
Brown congratulated Heritage New Zealand on upholding its core responsibilities of protecting the remnants of what was once pristine archaeology. The trust was pleased that steps were being taken with DOC to make sure it did not happen again.