Vigilant willow maintenance

Keeping a close eye on noxious weeds is a key part of managing the health of our waterways.

Willows are highly invasive plants that 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.

Over the past twenty years, the Victoria Government has funded the Catchment Management Authorities to remove willows from waterways. In 2015, a five-year Regional Riparian Action Plan was launched to improve the environmental condition of the state’s waterways. A key part of this was controlling willows in the headwaters of our rivers.

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

“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.”

The initial removal is just the start of the willow control process. Each site is then revisited to check for reinfestation.

“We go back annually for two years to look for new growth,” says Dan.

“Willows don’t die off like normal trees, they are very persistent. Even when the tree has been chopped down, the root system can remain in the soil and reshoot.

“The roots send up suckers and within two years, willow suckers can grow to two metres. With these small trees, often we can snip them off with secateurs and do a very targeted treatment,” continues Dan.

“It’s more economical and more sensitive to the environment.

“Older treatment sites get inspected every three years. If you leave it longer than that, the trees can get very large, which are much more difficult to treat.”

Dan says the maintenance program is vital to ensure willows are eradicated from our waterways.

“Willows are a large and complex problem and when we go into an area and remove mature willows, we also fence off the area and revegetate it. These follow-up visits are really protecting that investment.”

Clearing and maintenance of willows is a vital part of creating healthy waterways. The West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s willow control program includes working with private landholders and on public land in the headwaters of the Thomson, Macalister, Avon Morwell and Latrobe rivers and rivers entering the Corner Inlet.

Willow removal and maintenance work is funded by the Victorian State Government’s Regional Riparian Action Plan.

Contractors walk long distances in the river to find and treat willows
Contractors walk long distances in the river to find and treat willows