Clearing willows from waterways

Willows and waterways may be a perfect combination in childhood stories, but in real life willows pose a serious threat to the health of our waterways.

In Victoria, most willows are classified as noxious weeds, under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994. These highly invasive plants degrade our rivers and the surrounding land, crowding out native plants and reducing food and habitat for fish. Controlling the spread of willows is extremely difficult, as most species can spread from broken twigs and branches.

For Ed and Di Szwaja, clearing the willows from the banks of the creek and adjoining gullies that runs through their Toora property was a major priority, but removal was a painstaking and potentially expensive task.

Fortunately, a partnership with the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) has helped them realise the dream.

“Since we bought the property over a decade ago, we’ve worked hard to improve the environmental health of the land,” explained Ed.

“We believe that when the original selectors began to clear and farm the land, they planted a willow on the banks of the creek.

“Since then, innumerable twigs have broken off that tree and created a wall of willows. In fact, wall to wall crack willows had engulfed a gully that ran for about five hundred metres.”

WGCMA Project Coordinator, Richard Allen, visited the property and saw the perfect opportunity to work with Ed to improve the health of the creek, which feeds into the Agnes River.

“The plan was to coordinate our efforts,” explained Richard. “Our crew would come in with a chainsaw and an excavator and remove the willows, which are then burnt.

“Once the area has been cleared, Ed and Di would follow up with a program of weed control and revegetation.”

Four separate locations on the property were targeted for willow removal.

“Once the willows were removed, a whole new vista appeared,” said Ed.

“We found tree ferns and understory plants, as well as the dreaded blackberry. At least now we can access the area, spray the blackberry and allow the indigenous plants to re-establish.

“The advice and support from the WGCMA team during the project was invaluable,” continued Ed.

“Removing willows from these four sites has progressed our efforts to rebuild this property’s environmental health. With their help, our goal is now achievable.”

This project was supported by West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Excavator removing willow tree
The excavator removing willows on Ed Szwaja’s Toora property
Gully cleared of willows
The gully on Ed Szwaja’s Toora property cleared of willows will be revegetated with indigenous plants.