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Horses and the environment - understanding the impacts

Waikato Regional Council has recently released a report it commissioned on the equine sector. The primary aim was for Councils to get a better understanding of the equine community in the Waikato and Waipa catchments that are affected by Healthy Rivers Wai Ora: Proposed Plan Change 1.

While Council has a good understanding of the dairy, dry stock and horticultural sectors and their impacts on the environment and water quality they acknowledge there is little understanding of the equine sector. This project was the first step in rectifying that.

A range of equine properties were selected that included small lifestyle, sport horse and two thoroughbred studs.

There was a presumption that equine properties could be treated like drystock or dairy properties relative to their intensity. While there are similarities in practices of the pastoral sectors the study has shown that management of equine properties has differences that may mean the environmental impacts of horses will not be the same as the other pastoral sectors.

The report also assessed the properties against Proposed Plan Change 1. Proposed Plan Change 1 is seeking to improve the water quality of the Waikato and Waipa catchments and all properties over 2 hectares will be affected. The contaminants of concern are nitrogen, phosphorus, microbes and sediment. Proposed Plan Change 1 requires all properties over 20hectares will need to get a Nitrogen Reference Point and may have to undertake a Farm Environment Plan.

For equine properties the Nitrogen Reference Point is of significant concern as this is proposed to be achieved by using the model Overseer. The report shows that the current version of Overseer is unreliable for calculating nitrogen loss from equine properties. If it is used as a regulatory tool by Councils there is the potential it will constrain equine businesses.

Waikato Regional Council is now considering its next steps and approaches it will take from the findings of the report.

It will be important for equine property owners to keep informed of developments and join in any opportunities to discuss solutions. - Sally Millar

The full report can be found below


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