Winds of change in the willows
JEFF Cottrell was drawn into adventure conservation by accident. In the late 1990s, when the environmental movement convinced the NSWgovernment to transform many national parks into wilderness areas, Cottrell found himself locked out of his kayaking playground. ‘‘I was attending the public forums on access,’’ he recalls, ‘‘and someone flippantly said to me: ‘The only way you will get back into these parks is if you are doing weeding.’ ’’
Eighteen months later, a bushwalker discovered invasive black willows in the Colo Gorge of the Wollemi National Park in NSW. Cottrell’s opportunity had arrived. He was flown into the gorge by helicopter and paddled out of it over a five-day period, poisoning the willows as he went.
The presence of this species prompted the Willows Out of Wollemi program run by the Landcare group Friends of the Colo, which went on to clear private land in the catchment. However, participants found that paddling on flat water wasn’t as exciting as the more remote work, which placed them in whitewater river topography. So in 2004 a group paddled the Goobarragandra River near Tumut to look for and treat black willows.
‘‘I had paddled the river previously and knew how much fun it was, but the others who came along were hooked,’’ Cottrell says. ‘‘We realised we could take the skills, mapping and treating tools and whitewater gear purchased for the Willows Out of Wollemi project and help other Landcare groups, councils and catchment management authorities maintain the work they had already done with contractors, and so protect the community’s investment in controlling the few highly invasive types of willows.’’ Thus was born Willow Warriors, an adventure conservation group that leads paddling and whitewater rafting trips in NSWand implements Landcare programs along the way.
With support from a range of parks, conservation groups and local authorities, the organisation has eradicated thousands of invasive trees and saplings, and continues to monitor catchments to prevent reinfestation. The program has been replicated along 15 other NSWrivers and is being used to treat sea spurge (beach weed) on the southwest coast of Tasmania.
‘‘The initial investment has returned more than $400,000 in volunteer labour controlling and monitoring various weeds in the national park and invasive willows in the broader Colo catchment,’’ Cottrell says.
‘‘In the future, when we have eradicated black willows, I can see trips where we camp on someone’s property and help them control environmental weeds on their land.’’
Willow Warrior Jeff Cottrell leads a group of volunteers on a weed-busting trip