The cautionary tale of a land owner who has been fleeced of $11,000 for failing to deal with a pest

Pretty? Pretty expensive, actually.

Alf has instructed Mrs Grumble to check out the family patch here in Eketahuna North to ensure there is no hint we might be harbouring Solanum mauritianum.

He is urging his constituents to make similar checks.

This rascal goes under many other names, most notably woolly nightshade.

But it is also known as tobacco weed, flannel weed and kerosene plant.

And as some poor bugger in the Waikato has just found out, the authorities are gunning for woolly nightshade but want their ratepayers to do the eradicating.

They will be penalised if they ignore it.

Actually, Alf had never heard of woolly nightshade until this morning.

But he was alerted after a court ruling confirmed the powers and actions of the Waikato Regional Council to undertake pest plant control and bill property owners if they fail to carry out such work to the required standard of the regional pest management strategy.

The regional council seems chuffed today after winning a case brought by a landowner who had woolly nightshade on his property near Pokeno.

This bloke alleged the council exceeded its powers under the Biosecurity Act 1993 when it carried out woolly nightshade removal and then billed him.

It’s a long story. Alf won’t repeat all the details here, but advises his constituents to check them out.

In a nutshell, the hapless landowner failed to get rid of the weed as urged by the council.

An inspection in July 2007 found 90 per cent of the woolly nightshade still remained. Thus

… the council organised for the work to be done under its regional strategy powers. The landowner was subsequently billed a total of nearly $11,000 in charges and related costs. After receiving this, he made a number of legal claims alleging the council had acted improperly.

Judge Gibson, in the Manukau District Court, has found the biosecurity contractor and the council had acted properly and fully within its powers in carrying out the work.

The council’s intention in carrying on with the work was merely to destroy the infestation of woolly nightshade after the plaintiff had failed to adequately do so, the judge said. “So I do not find any element of bad faith in any aspect of the [council’s] dealings over the matter.”

The council’s manager for biosecurity operations, a bloke called Peter Russell, is saying the case was regrettable.

“The landowner did make some attempts to deal with the woolly nightshade but not nearly enough.

“The judge has upheld our right to take action when landowners aren’t doing enough to meet their obligations.

It seems this woolly nightshade is designated a “total control” pest under the regional pest management strategy.

This means landowners are responsible for eradicating it when it is found on their property.

Alf regards Labour and Green politicians as total control pests, too.

Woolly nightshade has been given total control status because of its ability to spread quickly, out-competing native vegetation and impacting upon farm and orchard production in the process.

It grows quickly and produces large amounts of seed.

A single plant can produce up to 10,000 seeds.

The seeds are spread by birds, and can remain alive ‘viable’ in the soil for 20 to 30 years before germinating.

Woolly nightshade can quickly establish large groups (or stands) of plants. It takes over an area by ‘crowding out’ other plants and stopping them from growing.

The Waikato Regional Council warns that –

Woolly nightshade can also affect people and livestock. If you come across woolly nightshade:

* Don’t eat the berries – they are moderately toxic to people, especially children.

* Don’t touch the leaves – they shed fine hairs when touched, which irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.

* Keep stock away – berries may also be toxic to livestock.

Oh, and let’s note that it is fast growing and can climb as high as nine metres.

Alf is confident Mrs Grumble will notice any weeds as tall as nine metres.

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