12 Dec 2017

Sniffer dogs to help detect pesky weed

10:39 am on 12 December 2017

Dogs will be used to help find a pesky weed on farms and vineyards in Marlborough.

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Chilean needle grass is a threat to animals and stock. Photo: RNZ / Russell Palmer

Chilean needle grass is an invasive plant that spreads rapidly and has sharp, needle-like tips.

It is very hard to detect, so two sniffer dogs specially trained to spot the weed have been sent to the region to help.

Marlborough District Council senior biosecurity officer Jim Herdman said dogs had previously been used to sniff out another weed called velvetleaf.

The dogs would be a huge help to farmers and those trying to stop the spread of the plant, he said.

"Dogs are used for all manners of things and their senses are 500 times greater than human smell, or even more than that, and they're handy in picking up all kinds of things ... their sense of smell is very well tuned," he said.

"So [these] dogs are being trained to identify the plant and point at or indicate the plant, so the handler can come along and control it with whatever method is being used at the time, whether it's being dug out or sprayed."

Mr Herdman said the weed posed a risk to animals and stock.

"That's what makes needle grass such a bad weed. It will get into the skin of the animals and go through the skin or pelt into the muscle tissue, so you could understand that that would be distressing for the pet or animal owner.

"For livestock it can have the effect of downgrading the meat, not to mention the health and animal welfare side of it."

In some cases the plant can cause blindness and even death in lambs.