Winds of change in the wil­lows

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & In­dul­gence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

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

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