By Mandy Coulson, VSTWP Extension Officer, 2014.
Having lived in rural Bellbrae, Margot Galletly shifted to Modewarre in 2001 to provide an increased acreage for sheep and more room for a growing son, and an elderly father. She valued the beautiful landscape, especially with its creek frontage and views of rolling hills.
The land was complex, with heavy volcanic soils on one side of the creek and lighter loams on the southern side. The heavier soils grew weeds, in particular thistles and oxtongue, in great profusion. In addition there were banks of gorse and briar rose. This became the focus for improvement. On the lighter soils at Bellbrae, weeds had not been a problem. The property had been inspected by DPI at one point and no problem weeds, including Serrated Tussock, had been detected. At Modewarre the occasional patch of Patterson’s Curse, and Bathurst Burr were detected by Margot, and removed.
It was quite some years before Margot became concerned that there might be a Serrated Tussock problem at the Modewarre property. Initially, it was visually obvious on an adjoining block of land which had non-resident owners and was leased out for stock agistment. This block had had numerous lessees, with no weed maintenance for at least 25 years. It tended to be eaten out and then left when, in the summer, the water would run out. During a particularly dry period the land was stripped bare, with only tussocks, as yet unidentified, clearly visible. Margot began noticing similar plants on her own land. “It was like picking mushrooms”, she said, “you needed to get your eye in” and then it was as if they were everywhere.
After getting them positively identified, the battle began of chipping them out by hand. It felt like a thankless and futile battle. They were in every paddock somewhere and once the neighbours were alerted, Margot felt responsible, not just for her own problem but for the adjoining properties. After a concerted effort one paddock seemed clear but then others were worse. Meanwhile the block next door remained untreated, as people came and went.
Photo 1: Margot with her serrated tussock collection trailer, which she takes out when checking on stock.
A five row 900 metre tree plantation was established on the western boundary with the absentee neighbours, to try to reduce the weed inflow and to deal with a fence “issue” at the same time. It felt like it was too little too late, as the tussock continued to appear. Margot said “That was the worst time, it felt like being under siege. I marched the boundaries and despaired as I found more and more.”
An opportunity became available to lease the block next door, after it was again vacant. This was a bit of a gamble but since Margot needed more land for sheep, and the weed problems clearly needed addressing, it seemed worth a try. The owners insisted on a three year lease which made the lessee responsible for weed control. The buck had been passed again.
After lengthy discussions with the VSWTP extension officer, Mandy Coulson, Margot realised she did not have to battle this alone. Mandy mapped the extent of the infestation, on both properties, and gave advice on a better way to approach the now very serious problem. This included a short and longer term management strategy. A plan for the next 12 months and one for the next five years was devised. It was a great relief to feel there was a plan in place and support to achieve it.
As an optimistic landholder, Margot still believes that if the hard work is put in, and by being vigilant she can get on top of it. The short term strategy entails getting the numbers down. By spot spraying or grubbing everything possible, all in the one season, and then following up each year on both properties then the problem must be less and hopefully back to more manageable levels. All the neighbours have been alerted and help by keeping an eye out for any new outbreaks. No hay will be sold from the property and where ever possible vehicles are restricted to slashed tracks. “It seems pretty basic” Margot says, and you might ask why not do this before? The key is to recognise that the problem exists, don’t try to battle it on your own, and then make a concerted effort, with a plan and support!