SEVERAL hundred chickens, ducks, Guinea pigs, rabbits, pigeons, parrots, 10 dogs and other animals greeted shire officials when they executed a search warrant at a Forrest Drive property, 4km north east of Nyora, on Thursday, September 24 last year.
The animals were inside and outside of the house as well as running loose on neighbouring land.
It wasn’t the first time that shire officials had responded to complaints from neighbours about the property, the number of animals being kept there or animals at large.
According to details provided by the Co-ordinator of Local Laws at the South Gippsland Shire Council, Bruce Gardiner, the shire has spent the best part of a year trying to sort out the problem.
But having prosecuted not only the people renting the property and keeping the animals but also the absentee owner in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court last week, to the tune of $6451, they may also have created a problem for the other people living along the road.
Under the provisions of the shire’s Rural Living Zone (RLZ) policy, which covers most if not all of the 10 acre blocks along Forrest Drive, you need a permit to keep any more than two animals on your land.
But almost everyone along the road has more than two animals.
There are flocks of sheep, dozens of horses, small herds of cows, alpacas you name it.
Some of the properties even have elaborate horse agistment arrangements set up.
It would be interesting to know how many people actually have a permit to keep more than two animals.
The fact is though, that you’d need a flock of sheep or something similar just to keep the grass down.
‘Agriculture’ is a permitted use in a Rural Living Zone but ‘intensive animal husbandry’ is prohibited outright and the grey area between two animals and a lot of animals requires an assessment of the capacity of the site to sustain the proposed use and an integrated land management plan.
How many of the owners of land in Forrest Drive have submitted these documents to the shire is anyone’s guess but for the moment, the shire is interested in only one property, and with good reason say their neighbours who’ve long identified it as a problem.
In court last Thursday, facing the music, was the operator of the farming enterprise, Damien Wirtanen.
He was convicted of several counts of contravening the planning scheme, including by running an intensive animal husbandry operation, by not having adequate fencing to keep stock contained, by allowing livestock to stray on to neighbouring properties and by having two unregistered dogs on site.
Mr Wirtanen, who claimed he was unaware that having hundreds of chickens, ducks etc on the site constituted an intensive agricultural operation, was fined $1100 with $117 costs.
Wendy Mankelow, who was not present in court, was convicted of similar offences but due to a list of prior planning offences, was fined $4000 with $117 costs.
The owner of the property, Brett Dickerson, also absent, was fined $1000 plus costs of $117.
The court heard that Wirtanen and Mankelow rented the premises and associated land from Dickerson.
Mr Wirtanen told the court that he bred the chickens, ducks and other poultry for sale at local markets. But he said eggs found at the site were not for sale.
Responding to complaints, shire compliance officers first inspected the property on March 11, 2015 and found it to be in breach of the animal husbandry provisions of the shire’s planning scheme.
The tenants were served a ‘Directions Letter’ on March 12, 2015 requiring the land to be brought back into compliance but at a subsequent inspection on May 19, 2015, the officers found nothing had changed.
Acting on information received, the shire executed a search warrant at the site on September 24 last year and found several hundred animals on site and in the house with 600 chicken eggs in the lounge room, 30 to 40 small birds in chick brooders inside and duck eggs in an incubator in the bedroom.
Neither of the tenants was in attendance at the time, however there were two other people present.
Mr Wirtanen pleaded guilty to the charges.
Magistrate Clive Allsop warned the offender that he could be fined thousands and thousands of dollars on the charges brought by the shire and if there were any problems in the future, he could expect higher penalties.
“I think he has got the message and he needs to see a shire officer to ascertain what it permitted,” Mr Allsop said.
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