Dozens of native trees along a Mid North roadside — including pōhutukawa planted in a community beautification project — have been killed with weed spray.
The incident, which came just as the pōhutukawa were due to start blooming, has baffled Waimate North residents and upset volunteers involved in the tree-planting drive about 20 years ago.
The spraying is thought to have been done by a council contractor on October 1 but the effects have taken some time to show up.
Waimate North man Daryl Way said weeds along Te Ahu Ahu Rd such as gorse and tobacco weed had been sprayed, but so too had pōhutukawa and tōtara trees ranging from 1-5m in height.
Way, who heads the Waimate North Landcare group, said there seemed to be little logic in the choice of targets.
In places where two similar trees were next to each other at the same distance from the road, one had been sprayed and not the other.
John Beachman, another Waimate North resident, said oak trees near the Mission Station, a wild plum tree, mānuka, punga and lots of mapou have died.
It was ''completely baffling'', he said.
''There's one spot where there's a native tree next to a Taiwanese cherry [an invasive species]. The native has been sprayed and the cherry hasn't.''
Removing trees to preserve sightlines for traffic, if that was the reason, was a valid thing to do, Beachman said.
''But very few of these trees would qualify for execution on that analysis. They weren't blocking sightlines. There's no visible strategy in any of the spraying.''
The pōhutukawa were planted in a project led by the late Bob Molloy of Kerikeri, co-owner of the Bay Chronicle newspaper, who wanted to create a ''crimson trail'' stretching from Kaikohe to Paihia via Waimate North.
Keri Molloy said her husband had great support form Kerikeri and Waipapa Rotary clubs, local volunteers and Project Crimson, which supplied the seedlings.
''It's pretty heart-breaking to hear they've been poisoned,'' she said.
One of the volunteers involved in the project, Trina McManus, said the pōhutukawa were planted over several years in the late 1990s.
''It's baffling and disappointing. It's vandalism, that's how I see it,'' she said.
Waimate North resident Pat Fox said he saw a white ute on Te Ahu Ahu Rd with the driver squirting spray from the window early last month.
It appeared to be a council contractor's vehicle so he thought nothing more of it until trees started dying.
Beachman said residents wanted to know what was specified in the spraying contract and what spray was used. They also wanted assurances it wouldn't happen again, or anywhere else.
The Far North District Council has been contacted but did not respond by edition time.
In 2018 several mature pōhutukawa were poisoned at Opito Bay near Kerikeri. In that case the culprit was thought to be a rogue resident seeking an unobstructed view.
It is understood police have a suspect but insufficient evidence to lay charges.