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Whodunnit? Police called in as poisoned trees cut down

The three pohutukawa trees before the poisoning. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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The plot thickens as the investigation continues into who poisoned, then chopped down, three protected pohutukawa trees at Riversdale Beach.

First, the trees were poisoned in January, then last week they were chopped down without permission.

The culprit remains at large.

Riversdale Beach residents are upset that three of the town’s iconic pohutukawas have been killed, but still don’t know who is to blame.


The Masterton District Council has confirmed the poison that killed the trees was the “restricted” herbicide granule, Picloram.

Because it is a restricted chemical, the matter has been referred to WorkSafe.

Massey University senior lecturer in weed science Dr Kerry Harrington said the herbicide was “dynamite to plants”.

While it cannot be bought from a supermarket or garden centre, most farmers would have it, he said.

Under legislation, the herbicide can only be bought and used by an approved handler.

“If someone was going to kill a tree, and anyone with a wee bit of knowledge, this certainly would be a good way of doing it,” he said.

About five months ago, the council launched an investigation into what was then a “suspected poisoning” of the 30-year-old trees.

At the time, council chief executive Pim Borren believed the poisoning was a deliberate act.

Council community facilities and activities manager Andrea Jackson said last week the council received a request from a Riversdale community group to remove the trees, but “unfortunately, we didn’t have time to give formal consent for these trees to be removed and they were cut down”.

The council had not wanted to remove the trees while police were still investigated the poisoning.

“However, it does seem the trees were cut down simply as part of a general clean-up around Riversdale and was not the result of untoward intentions.”

But Mrs Jackson said “we do not tolerate the poisoning of our trees”.

The samples of the trees were taken about two months ago and sent away for testing.

Sergeant Ian Osland said the council lodged a “wilful damage” complaint some months ago, but the new information surrounding the type of poison will assist police with the investigation.

He said this type of complaint was “uncommon”.


Under the Native Plants Protection Act it is an offence to “take”, including damaging, any protected native plant that is growing on Crown land, or in any State forest land or public reserve, or on any road or street” without the consent.

While WorkSafe and police conduct separate investigations, Mr Osland said the agencies can share information.

A WorkSafe spokesperson confirmed the case was referred to them as the regulator of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

“We are still considering the information we have been provided with to determine our next steps,” the spokesperson said.

The three trees were planted along Riversdale Rd, in front of holiday homes inside the Riversdale Village Camp.

Riversdale Village Camp chairman Robbie Frank said everyone in the camp was “miffed” about the poisoning.

There had been many discussions among camp property owners, but “no one knows anything about it”, he said.

“We are all a little miffed as to why someone would do that,” Mr Frank said.

The trees were not excessively large, but did provide some shade, especially for people who parked there.

Mr Frank said the 30 property owners in the camp were a “social group”, and he assumed if anyone knew anything he would hear about it.

He said some people would assume some members of the camp were involved if the poisoning was deliberate.

“We are hoping some light would be shed on it so we could get some closure.”

Only stumps remain. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Riversdale Ratepayers’ Association president Bill Roberts said he noticed the trees had been removed a couple of weeks ago, and assumed it had been requested by the council.

He said there had not been much discussion about the poisoning for some time, but he still questions why someone would interfere with the trees.

“I sincerely wish the culprits are caught, whoever they are, because it’s just a nasty thing to do. There’s no need for it,” he said.

“It would be nice if they came forward, apologised and offered to replant them.”

However, Mr Roberts “presumes” the case will never be solved due to the amount of time that has passed.

Mrs Jackson said the tree poisoning and cutting of council trees at the beach was a reminder to the district’s residents about taking matters into their own hands.

“Any council trees should not be trimmed or cut without express council consent.”

Breaches of the HSNO Act carry a penalty ranging from a $50,000 fine to three months imprisonment.

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