High up in the Headwaters

A project to tackle willow control in the headwaters of the Avon and Macalister rivers is creating big benefits downstream.

According to West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) Project Delivery Coordinator, Dan Cook, getting rid of willows in the headwaters means the riverbanks downstream are better protected from re infestation.

“Willows are extremely invasive,” explains Dan. “They can change stream and river courses, choke up the middle of waterways and take over from native vegetation.

“This then means there is less habitat available for native animals and reduces the biodiversity of waterways.”

WGCMA’s headwaters program aims to remove willows high in the catchment so that they can’t re-establish downstream.

“The program itself sounds obvious enough,” continues Dan.

“But logistically a lot of work has to go into getting the job done.”

Two experienced outdoor contractors walk the rivers wearing specialist safety and work gear looking for willows.

When they spot a willow, they use a small axe to put a series of cuts around the plant just under the bark and apply herbicide into these axe cuts. They also mark the point on a GPS.

Their safety is managed by a third person who stays in radio contact with the duo.

“It’s fairly isolated country we’re working in” says Dan. “So it’s important that we’ve got our safety procedures right.

“Contractors are walking up to 20km a day in the rivers; it is tiring, physical work.”

Dan says that removing willows in the headwaters creates real cost savings downstream.

“Willows can spread via small branches and twigs. It is much more expensive to remove large clumps of willows downstream then fence and revegetate that area than to remove the upstream willows before they wreak havoc, becoming a downstream problem.”

Similar works have been done in the headwaters of the Franklin River, Morwell River, Middle Creek and the Latrobe River.

This three-year program is funded by the Victorian State Government’s Regional Riparian Action Plan.