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Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

‘Toxic’ herbicide to be sprayed in national parks

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A sign warning of the NPWS spraying timetable for the control of Bitou Bush in local national parks; and a sample of the invasive plant.


Nadia De Souza Pietramale

Why is there so little public notice and discussion about aerial spraying of Bitou Bush in Byron Shire?

Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare would like to express its concern about the lack of adequate notice and discussion of the proposed aerial spraying of Bitou Bush by helicopters along the Byron Shire coast, including for the first time the Tyagarah Nature Reserve. The herbicide to be sprayed is metsulfuron-methyl, which goes by trade names such as ‘Brush-off’ and ‘Brushkiller 600’.

The first we saw of the plan was a tiny public notice in The Echo, volume 28#01, on page 41 (www.echo.net.au/node/88699).

The public notice was provided by the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services in accordance with requirements under the Pesticides Regulation 1995 and the NPWS Pesticide Use Notification Plan.

While we appreciate the intention of the NPWS is to manage the Bitou Bush, we believe the overall impact to coastal biodiversity as a result of aerial spraying must be considered, along with the community impacts, including impacts to health and tourism.

The proposed herbicide metsulfuron-methyl is a Group B sulfonylurea herbicide. It’s a translocated herbicide that acts to inhibit cell division in the shoots and roots of the plant. Some native plants, such as soft-leaved pioneer species, are also sensitive to it and can be killed or injured.

According to the Pesticide Management Education Program of Cornell University in New York, metsulfuron-methyl poses risks of exposure primarily through skin and eye contact. It is moderately to very mobile, especially in sandy soils. It has a half-life of 120–180 days in silt loam soil. While it is classified as low toxicity to birds, bees, fish and invertebrates, it is not clear what impact it will have on Australian species.

The Bitou Bush Threat Abatement Program, which regularly sees large tracts of coastline aerially sprayed, is not without its critics. Questions that urgently need to be asked are what damage is all this herbicide application really doing to coastal biodiversity and the community’s health? What happens when Bitou Bush is removed; do other weeds such as Glory Lily become an even bigger problem, requiring even more applications of even more dangerous herbicide? Is this what our community wants?

bitou-Chrysanthemoides-monilifera-400pxAccording to a buried assessment report of the Bitou Abatement program by Paul Flowers in 2004, ‘… The program of Bitou Helicopter Boom Spraying (BHBS) has achieved satisfactory levels of effectiveness when the aims are simply to control Bitou Bush. BHBS has not achieved high levels of effectiveness when gauged as a biodiversity management tool because of inadequate use of precautionary measures and the inadequate monitoring of herbicide injury of native plants.’

There are other methods available for managing Bitou Bush. The physical crowning technique used by Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare volunteers, at Brunswick Heads Crown Land Reserve, is extremely efficient and simple; anyone can do it.

It uses zero pesticides, and would give jobs for our locals, not to mention exercise, healthy soil, learning with the country, a sense of belonging, connecting, community, safe wildlife and respect for the land.

Perhaps we don’t move as fast as the helicopters, but we leave clean environmental footprints and anyway, what is the hurry? Why do NPWS insist on this chemical-intensive, mainstream agricultural approach towards the management of our biological reserves, especially when there is a safer alternative?

NPWS contractors are planning to spray on fine-weather days during the weekdays from July 15 to 26, which is next week. It’s likely the spraying will occur in the mornings when there isn’t much wind.

Access to some public areas will be restricted. For more information, contact Byron Coast area manager on 6620 9300 or visit www.byronshirechemicalfreelandcare.org.

Nadia De Souza Pietramale is from Byron Shire Chemical Free Landcare.

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  1. Hi, thank you so much for your support. I would like to ask for a important correction about the title ‘Toxic’ insecticide to be sprayed in national parks. Metsulfuron-methyl is not an insecticide, it is a herbicide. The general word is pesticide, and under this terminology are: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc. That is why it is the Pesticides Regulation act 1995,

    • Hi Nadia, I’ve alerted Chris, the online editor about it but as it was in the PDF, it cannot be corrected, I have now corrected it in the ‘read more’ version though. – Luis


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