Rose has a problem.  She wants to know how to stop the council from spraying the ‘noxious weeds’ on her roadside.

For more than 20 years, Rose and her partner have lived on their lifestyle block where they run sheep, cattle, pigs, and chooks and maintain an orchard, using organic principles.

“When we came here, it was bare pasture.  We’ve planted thousands of trees and the birds and insects have flourished.  We now have baby bellbirds, tuis, and fantails as well as quail and pheasants – a flourishing ecosystem.”

They have encouraged native seedlings along the road frontage to further restore native ecosystems and that’s where the problem lies.

“The Council contractors keep spraying it.  And killing our native seedlings in the process.  We’ve strongly objected on five occasions but the standard response is that they have a legal obligation to keep the roadside free of weeds.”

The weed in question is the broom.  Broom says Rose, is endemic in the area for a reason – it’s a midpoint between bare pumice and flourishing native bush.

“We want it there to protect our native seedlings.  It’s a necessary step in changing the ecology of the soil – it fixes nitrogen so native seedlings can grow.”

The problem is that broom has been designated a noxious weed –  “Taupo District Council won’t allow us to have it on our roadside, even though it is left alone along other road verges between our place and town.  It’s not out of control, we control all our weeds and the broom hasn’t spread at all in the years we’ve been here.”

Getting Council on side

Rose is probably not alone with this one, says Waikato ecologist Gerry Kessels of Kessels and Associates Ltd.

All rural Council contractors tend to over-spray road verges, he says.  They also tend to be poorly paid and not very well trained – “often they don’t know the difference between a weed and a native, or simply don’t care.”

This ‘evangelical’ spraying regime leaves bare patches which create spaces for more weeds to establish and grow, he says.

Gerry lives near Pirongia, where people can sign a form asking Council spraying contractors not to spray outside their property – “on the proviso that the owner controls the weeds.

“Generally councils don’t like roadsides in rural areas to be planted out, but I have planted low-growing species such as flax and hebe, well back from the formed road edge, taking care not to affect sight lines or visibility around corners and from driveway entrances – the council were fine about this.”

Ngaruawahia resident Wayne Bennett runs Forest Flora, an ecological restoration consultancy and nursery.  He has experience in re-establishing natives along roadsides.

“In 1988 I looked at the roadside/riverbank opposite my home and decided to remove the weeds and restore the native vegetation that would have once naturally occurred there.  It was important to get the permission of the landowner, in this case, the local district council.”

He then looked at the nearby native forests on similar landforms and studied the natural succession in the area.

“I collected seeds from all the local species and propagated the plants.  I worked hard to eliminate wandering jew, honeysuckle, privet, and hawthorn but only removed the lower branches of the willow.  I noticed that in the shade of the willows the native shrubs have a competitive advantage over the soft weeds.”

He recommends Rose look around her area for natives that establish early.  “These species are typically fast-growing, effective dispersers of seed, tolerant of wind and frost but intolerant of the shade caused by competing plants over time.”

Good examples are toetoe, koromiko, flax, karamu, manuka, kanuka, and five finger.

Native haven

Gerry Kessels says that New Zealand roadsides provide a haven for native flora and fauna.

“Particularly in a landscape dominated by farmland.  The regenerating scrub areas found on road verges often contain a wide variety of native plants, providing seeds and fruits for many birds.  Other animals, such as lizards, can find refuge in road scrub areas.”

As for broom, Gerry hasn’t heard if it can be a useful nursery plant.  “It may provide shelter, help retain soil structure and moisture suitable for native plant regeneration, but generally I would recommend removing the broom and replanting with native species.”

Wayne Bennett agrees and adds broom may be causing environmental harm in some areas.  “It might be worthwhile choosing another nurse crop.”

He works on the principle that the closer you restore an area to the natural vegetation cover, the less effort it is to maintain.

“As well as that you restore a unique ecosystem that is found nowhere else.”

Action plan

There are a number of things Rose can do at this point, says Gerry.   “She should ask the council staff member in charge of road maintenance to meet her on-site with her local Councillor.  Explain her case and listen to their side of the story.  Suggest to them that she will control the weeds on the road verge in front of her property instead of the contractors.”

Then the trick is to work with council staff to develop a planting plan for the verge, which takes into account road safety and maintenance issues.  This only needs to be a very simple sketch and list of plants.

“Use locally sourced native plants to suit the conditions – her local native plant nursery will be able to recommend these

Then there’s being involved at a political level.  “Council staff is often entrenched in their views and change may take years of pushing.  Being involved in District Plan reviews, the annual planning process, and the Long Term Community Plan process is an important way to have input into Council policy.”

 ...and the Council says

The Council’s roading engineer was unavailable when I contacted the council, but there are policies in place for this situation, communications manager Suzanne Takiwa told me. “If people wish to plant their berms they make an application to the Council – and if their request fits with the policy we should be able to work something out.” They promised to get back in the next week. 

Council response

Planting of rural roadsides is not usually encouraged by Taupo District Council, and if someone wanted to do so, prior approval is needed.

Acting transport manager Denis Lewis said the Council adopted a Tree and Vegetation Policy which sets out how vegetation is to be managed on Council-owned land – which includes roadsides.  There are a number of requirements that have to be met, such as allowing adequate visibility and the like.

“Approval will be granted or declined to take into account the detail of the policy.”

Because broom has been declared a noxious plant, the Council is required to control it on land controlled by them.

“If a property owner were to control the noxious plants on their roadside frontage then the only chemical control to be undertaken would be vegetation in the immediate vicinity of edge market posts or signposts.”

So – possibly the first step for Rosemary is to do some research on the native plants which thrive in her area.  Then she should grab a copy of the policy so she can fit in with their requirements and then request a meeting with someone from the council to talk about the future.  Happy planting.