Resident seeks support for war on ant plague
Wakatu man John Caulton feels he is waging a lone war against an insect that is really bugging him, but worse is his fear that proposed new rules will lead to a worse problem.
Voracious argentine and darwin's ants have taken over his property, infesting his vegetable garden and plaguing his children, who get covered in the insects if they sit on the lawn for longer than a second.
"I kill them when they crawl up my legs. If I see ants on my hands, I squish them," son Jack Caulton, 6, said.
Mr Caulton said he had ant nests every half a metre throughout his property, and each nest could have up to 80 queens.
He has tried poisoning them, killing them by tipping boiling water along garden edges, squashing them, slapping them and haranguing the council, and now he has gone public with his grievance in the hope that it might stir others to action.
They will have to move quickly, though, for public submissions to the proposed Regional Pest Management Strategy 2012-17 close tomorrow.
Mr Caulton, an aircraft engineer, is concerned that revised rules that might relax the onus on property owners to manage the problem will lead to an ad-hoc approach in that some will be vigilant and spend hundreds of dollars on poison, but a neighbour might not.
The proposed new strategy plans to remove the clause that requires land occupiers to control argentine ants on infested land, but allow for continued inspection of properties with known or suspected infestations.
Proposed new rules for controlling argentine ants include encouraging, rather than compelling landowners to control the problem, while placing the onus on the local authority to treat the berm (the strip of land between road and property) and properties known to contain argentine ants, to slow their spread.
The local authority would also be required to treat boundaries of council-owned reserve land containing argentine ants.
The revised strategy aims to slow the spread of darwin's ants rather than contain them.
Proposed new rules to achieve this include having a management agency promoting and encouraging the control of darwin's ants, and encouraging the occupier of land containing them to undertake control treatment.
It was reported late last year that the number of properties in Nelson infested with argentine ants has increased from 225 five years ago to 1367.
Tasman District Council biosecurity co-ordinator Lindsay Vaughan said the number of known properties with darwin ants was also "ticking along", increasing from 52 in 2006 to 167.
Argentine ants were first found at Port Nelson in 2001 and are considered to be one of the world's worst invasive ant species.
They rapidly increase in numbers, form super-colonies, are difficult to eradicate and have been known to kill baby birds and eat caged geckos. They are also a threat to horticulture.
Argentine ants are easily spread by human-related activities such as the movement of pot plants and vehicles.
Property owners have been involved in large-scale baiting programmes since their introduction.
In 2006, Biosecurity New Zealand stepped in and tried to help with a $100,000 government-funded baiting programme in Richmond.
In 2007, property owners were held responsible for managing ant infestations on their properties under the guidelines of the previous pest management strategy or face council action.
Mr Caulton said the ant infestations were affecting his family's quality of life, and he now had to pay a contractor $400 a year to try to control the problem, or pay $130 for two baitings and do the work himself.
"Effectively this is increasing my rates by $400 and reducing my quality of life."
The emphasis of the proposed strategy was to reduce significant additional costs to the community with respect to lost production and natural values, and the increased cost of control.
The proposed regional pest management strategy for Tasman and Nelson includes changes to the introduction of certain plants used in boundary control and new sections on a biological control programme and marine biosecurity.
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