HISTORY REPEATING: Mark Sisley points out some privet growing in the Whakatane district. Photo Mark Rieder D9569-02

EIGHTEEN years after organising a quarter-million-dollar privet culling programme within the district, Te Teko resident Mark Sisley says it needs to be done again.

A source of distress for many asthma and hay-fever sufferers, Mr Sisley said privet had become so entrenched it was considered practically impossible to eradicate in the Eastern Bay.

But he said that did not mean it should be allowed to grow uncontrolled, especially in populated areas.

“In 2002 I put out a petition to see how much interest there was because I knew it was bad for people with respiratory problems and skin irritations,” he said.

Though he accumulated 3500 signatures and created a weed control plan for the area, it was an uphill battle to convince the community and officials of privet’s health issues. He ultimately prevailed by convincing them it was a good employment opportunity.

He is planning another petition to gauge support but with other issues such as coronavirus being more pressing, he wants to wait until people have less on their plates to deal with.

A joint effort between Te Teko Community Development Trust and Work and Income in 2002 provided $246,000 in funding to employ up to 10 workers for a six-month privet control programme.

“I had many meetings with the Whakatane District Council and Te Teko. Though there was some interest, nobody really came forward except for Work and Income and the Community Development Trust,” he said.

“It worked well. Guys were trained, given new skills and supplied the equipment needed for the job.”

Privet spreads quickly and is difficult to eradicate because of its hardiness. Yet it proved impossible to convince the government to provide ongoing funding for a permanent solution.

“I spoke to a biosecurity officer in those days, but he wasn’t interested. He said as far as he was concerned, it was not a threat to the country and that if it had an impact on agriculture, the government would have gotten rid of it already,” he said. “Now we know the biggest threat is to humans.”

Part of the complexity of the issue is that there are four types of privet that can have varying effects on people – and not just those susceptible to respiratory issues. Some varieties grow fruit toxic to humans.

“Tree privet is bad enough but hedge privet, which people have growing around their homes, is the [dangerous] one. It’s found along main roads and farms too,” he said.

Mr Sisley said continuing support from Ngai Tuhoe gave him the strength to dedicate his time to this project.