'Goodbye to our bees' - DOC spraying herbicide on Auckland maunga in suburb which paid $50K to be chemical free

Source: 1News

An historic Auckland maunga is being sprayed with chemical herbicides to the dismay of surrounding residents who paid $50,000 in rates to keep their parks and reserves chemical free.

The view from North Head mountain overlooking the suburb of Devonport, and Waitemata Harbour, at sunset.

The chemical weed spraying measures are being undertaken on North Head mountain in Devonport, on Auckland’s North Shore, which is an historic battlement containing barracks, tunnels and gun emplacements, dating back to 1885.

North Head, otherwise known as Maungauika, is under the management of the Department of Conservation (DOC), who rent offices there, and for the duration of November will be spraying glyphosate, commercially known as Roundup, to combat kikuyu grass.

However, this chemical spraying flies in the face of an initiative which the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board region signed up to last year to pay Auckland Council $50,000 to not use chemical weed sprays in their local board region.

Department of Conservation sign on the North Head entrance gates notifying of the November chemical weed spraying.

The catch is, the North Head maunga does not fit under the jurisdiction of Auckland Council, and the DOC can spray chemical weed sprays on North Head if they choose.

Devonport locals irritated

Local residents on the Devonport Locals Facebook Group are suspicious and irritated about the practice.

"Always was chemical free in Devonport. Growl - naughty DOC," Gail Ferrif Griffin wrote.

"DOC seem to have a problem with chemical abuse!" Ian Haley wrote.

"I think DOC has been very unrespectful," Ann Allen wrote

"GOODBYE TO OUR BEES THEN," Ian Charles Patrick Story wrote.

DOC Auckland mainland operations manager Kirsty Prior said they were aware the Takapuna-Devonport Local Board has a policy of using non-toxic weed control methods, but the spraying only occurred a "handful of days each year".

Ms Prior said DOC sprayed narrow strips of grass along the road and around historic structures.

"To ensure the spray does not drift, the applicator nozzle is aimed directly at the grass and kept within 15 centimetres of the grass," Ms Prior said.

"Spraying is stopped if the wind rises above 15 kilometres an hour. We do not spray if there are a lot of people on the maunga.'

Gun emplacements on North Head mountain which served as defence lookout during WWII.

"DOC has used a non-toxic pine based herbicide for this work in the past but it was not as effective. DOC is now trialling another plant-based herbicide for this work."

Despite this trial, a sign on the entrance to North Head, identified Glyphosate as one of the chemicals being used - which in 2015 the World Health Organization said "probably" has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

DOC in a 'difficult position'

Devonport-Takapuna Local Board chair Grant Gillon said he understood residents concerns, but the DOC was in a "difficult position" with the spraying.

"People are unhappy about it, that's true, but I also know DOC get a lot of criticism about seed heads blowing down to private property and then onto beaches and reserves that are right across the road, they've always been in a difficult position and will get criticised one way or another," Mr Gillon said.

"We work as much as we can with DOC recognising they've got a professional approach to this, and also they are facing immense pressure with a lot of weed seed heads at this time of year."

DOC will be spraying AGPRO Terminate herbicide, containing chemicals glyphosate and terbuthylazine until November 30.

In November 2016, five of Auckland's 21 local boards spent $50,000 from their own budget to use mechanical gardening equipment instead of glyphosate. 

In October 2017, Auckland Council passed a motion that local boards could request there be no chemical spraying around children's parks and playgrounds, provided they also pay for it.

Also in October this year a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found levels of glyphosate in human urine had increased by around 500 per cent over 23 years.

And today, New University of Canterbury research confirms the active ingredients of the commonly used herbicides, RoundUp, Kamba and 2,4-D (glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D, respectively), each alone cause antibiotic resistance at concentrations well below label application rates.