for a long time, have provided a major force for dealing with weeds,
particularly in bushland sites in and around capital cities and major
country centres. The goodwill of people desiring to do something to
preserve special environments has proved to be a most useful adjunct for
land management agencies to deal with weeds. However, what do you do if
the weed infested area only has a small human population of 300, and is
isolated by 700km of ocean with a very expensive airfare? This is the
case with Lord Howe Island.
history of Lord Howe Island has long been recognised as unique and
worthy of preservation - in fact as early as 1870 the whole island was
declared a botanical reserve, and has always had some conservation
status, culminating in World Heritage Listing in 1982. The island has a
rare and unique flora - having plants related to Australian, New
Caledonia and New Zealand, with about fifty percent of its plant species
endemic to the island, including seven endemic genera. Certainly an
environment worthy of protection from being overun by weeds.
has had a small settlement for over 150 years, and like most places that
Europeans have settled, weeds eventually found their way into the
environment. Many of the plants introduced to Lord Howe Island are a
minor nuisance around the settlement area. However there are a number of
introduced plants that have colonised areas away from the settlement and
which pose a threat to the long term integrity of the native forest. In
fact the 1997 review of World Heritage values of Lord Howe Island
identified weeds as the major threat to the conservation of the islands
unique flora and fauna.
The main weeds of the island include two species of "asparagus fern" -
Climbing Asparagus (Asparagus plumosus) and Ground Asparagus (Protasparagus
aethiopicus) as well as Cherry Guava (Psidium cattleianum)
and Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum). The two asparagus
fern species were both brought from South Africa as ornamental plants
into Australia, where they are also considered a major weed in many
coastal areas. They were brought out to Lord Howe Island some time in
the 1930’s. They both have water storage tubers and so the climate and
the sandy soil of the lowlands suit this plant very well to flourish and
invade the native forest. Bird dispersal has ensured they have slowly
spread around the forest of the settlement; but, since the 1980s, they
have rapidly increased their rate of spread. The management agency
responsible for the island, the Lord Howe Island Board, had a weed
strategy prepared in 1992 and have had some World Heritage funding to
provide control measures. A dedicated Environmental Section puts in many
weeks labour each year on weeds - but also has responsibility for other
aspects of the island; walking tracks, visitor facilities, feral animal
control, wildlife monitoring etc. The Lord Howe Island community numbers
just 300, and this is not enough to draw on for a strong and active
volunteer group. Over the years, some small groups have formed but
folded; and some individual residents have made some impact doing their
own patch. But the weeds are winning.
approach. In what seems an impossible situation, a novel approach to
the problem has evolved and is proving effective - ecotourism. A chance
meeting in 1996 between myself and Sydney bush regenerator Rymill Abell
has developed into what is proving to be a major contribution to the
weed solution on Lord Howe Island. Rymill had been involved with
coordinating bush regeneration in Lane Cove National Park for many years
and thought he could raise interest with a few fellow regenerators.
So a plan was
struck to offer people a week’s holiday on Lord Howe Island, with a few
hours weeding in the mornings and guided walks around the walking tracks
in the afternoon to learn about the flora, fauna, geology and marine
life. We decided to stay at Pinetrees - the oldest guesthouse on Lord
Howe Island with a reputation for fine food and hospitality.
In June 1998,
a team of 30 visited the island and (under direction of the LHI Board
rangers) tackled a major Ground Asparagus infestation on Transit Hill.
In total, 380 hours was contributed - a great effort against the weeds.
Everyone agreed it was one of the best "holidays" they had ever had. A
second trip was organised for 1999. This trip very quickly filled and
was again very successful, with many of those from 1998 returning.
in the weeding trips was accelerated by 2 community grants from the
Threatened Species Network, a program of the World Wide Fund for Nature
and the Endangered Species Program of the Natural Heritage Trust. The
funding helped to purchase equipment and materials as well as helping
with the volunteers’ accommodation and travel costs. This incentive
provided the catalyst for volunteer interest, raising the number of
volunteers from 28 in year 1, to 70 in year 3, and now 150 participate
participants in initial trips were mainly experienced bush regenerators;
but subsequent trips have had a mix of experienced hands and newcomers.
Theoretical and practical tuition is provided, so participants quickly
become confident in techniques. All activities are optional and
volunteers only work where they wish.
co-ordinate closely with the LHI Board Rangers, so that with heavy
infestations the Board team brushcut and poison prior to the volunteers
coming in. Follow up over the treated area is an important part of the
program to ensure all plants have been removed. With nearly four years
since the program started, the initial areas are growing back with
natives very strongly and it is heartening to see this happening.
communicating with participants we have been able to find out just what
it is that makes these trips so successful. Certainly the beautiful
environment of Lord Howe Island is something that appeals to many people
to visit; but for people to pay around $1600 for this type of trip it
needs more. It is the combination of strong leadership, high quality
natural history interpretation, contributing to preserving the
environment, good company with people of similar outlook, close
cooperation with the land management agency and a high standard of
hospitality - It appears to be only successful because all of these
ingredients are present.
So we suggest
that, for areas of isolated natural bushland remote from large
population centres with a serious weed problem, organised ecotours where
people actually get on the ground at the problem (not just look out the
coach window or talk about it) can make a major contribution. Find a
strong bush regenerator leader, a person who knows the natural history
of the area and can convey it in an interesting way, provide good
hospitality, liaise closely with the local land managers and you will
have a successful way of contributing to weed control. It is working on
Lord Howe Island.