Friends of the Earth has slammed a court decision in which an HVP contractor was found guilty of chemical spray drift where herbicides were found 150 metres into the Holey Plains State Forest.

FOE obtained freedom of information documents which showed that the contractor was found guilty in the Sale Magistrates Court in August for 13 charges in breach of chemicals regulations.

Agriculture Victoria pressed charges after investigating several incidents in 2020 on receiving reports by FOE land-use researcher Anthony Amis, who discovered the damage while surveying for koalas.

The contractor was given a 12-month good behaviour bond and was ordered to obtain a new aerial management system accreditation and to pay $1000 to Landcare.

But Mr Amis said he did not understand why a heftier penalty was not handed-down, with applicable maximum fines up to $66,000.

“This is a slap on the wrist. This was not an appropriate punishment at all. Where else has this company been operating?” Mr Amis said.

It was found that the contractor was spraying a neighbouring pine plantation and allowed chemicals to drift about two kilometres along the native forest boundary.

Investigators discovered four types of chemicals, including glyphosate in 17 locations and in tree canopies up to 20-metres in the air.

Some of the charges included injuriously impacting native plants, breaching label instructions, using herbicides in excess of label rates and a lack of appropriate record keeping.

Mr Amis said the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas showed the affected area contained the critically endangered Martins toadlet, koalas, vulnerable powerful owls and endangered lace monitors.

The forest is also a site for honey producing hives and is a popular bush recreation area.

“If this area had a farm house or a community nearby, what would be the impact on residents?” Mr Amis said.

“This is a real worry for me, particularly as the state government is planting thousands of hectares of pine plantations in Gippsland and I fear there will be more inappropriate chemical use.”

An HVP Plantations spokesperson said it was an isolated incident and the company amended its protocols to maintain best practices after an investigation.

“While this was an extremely isolated incident, we are confident these improved methods and procedures make it extremely unlikely such an incident could occur again,” the spokesperson said.

Agriculture Victoria has stressed that it is an offence to carry out any spraying that contaminates land, plants or stock outside the target area under the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act.

An Agriculture Victoria spokesperson said all agrichemical users are required to use chemicals responsibly to prevent spray from drifting from the target crop or activity.

“Agriculture Victoria accepts the outcome of the court case and encourages all agrichemical users to understand and comply with the relevant requirements of use,” the spokesperson said.