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Residents in Shire of Harvey furious as banks of region’s waterways are overrun with weeds

Craig DuncanHarvey-Waroona Reporter
The white fluff from which a cottonbush plant gets its name means the seeds can easily become airborne to spread.
Camera IconThe white fluff from which a cottonbush plant gets its name means the seeds can easily become airborne to spread. Credit: Craig Duncan

The banks of the Harvey diversion drain are lined with sporadic swarms of one of WA’s most pervasive pests — cottonbush.

It is one of six declared plant pests in WA, meaning any landholder with the weed on their property is required to manage it and stop its spread.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development states cottonbush competes with pastures and native flora if allowed to establish and is toxic to livestock.

The infestation across the Harvey diversion drain covers both banks with plants almost 3m tall.
Camera IconThe infestation across the Harvey diversion drain covers both banks with plants almost 3m tall. Credit: Craig Duncan

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So it comes as some annoyance for Wokalup residents Peter and Marion Lofthouse to see so much of the weed growing on crown land next to their property.

Mrs Lofthouse is fighting back against cottonbush, still pulling up small strands along roadsides in the Harvey shire at age 69.

“We’ve been keeping our land clear, but the government aren’t keeping their land clear,” she said.

To assist with weed management, DPRID established Recognised Biosecurity Groups, including the Peel-Harvey Biosecurity Group, to work with landowners to facilitate and manage invasive species.

“By working together with RBGs, landholders can work collectively to address pests more effectively across the landscape to protect their businesses, lifestyle and the environment,” a department spokesperson said.

Funding for the groups comes from the Declared Pest Rate, which is raised by DPIRD.

Landowners Peter and Marion Lofthouse are furious to have such a swarm weeds growing so close to the property they have worked so hard to keep clear.
Camera IconLandowners Peter and Marion Lofthouse are furious to have such a swarm weeds growing so close to the property they have worked so hard to keep clear. Credit: Craig Duncan

“The State matches the funds raised dollar-for-dollar and the combined funds are made available to RBGs to support landholders to manage widespread and established declared pests,” a department spokesperson said.

But with the outbreak of cottonbush on crown land, Mr and Mrs Lofthouse are refusing to pay the rate.

Mrs Lofthouse said the couple are not alone in this stance.

“Thousands of people can see cottonbush every day along the verges of the Forrest and South Western Highway, along rivers and drains and in State-owned National Parks,” she said.

“Yet they expect thousands of landowners to pay a pest rate to our State Government when it is the State Government who grow and own most of these declared weed infestations.”

By not paying the rate, Mr and Mrs Lofthouse have an ever-growing debt placed on their land, meaning they cannot sell their property.

A single seed pod can contain hundreds of seeds which get caught in the wind and spread endlessly across the landscape.
Camera IconA single seed pod can contain hundreds of seeds which get caught in the wind and spread endlessly across the landscape. Credit: Craig Duncan

A Peel Harvey Biosecurity Group spokesperson said it is a landowner’s choice to pay the rate, with the organisation having no way of knowing who has or had not paid it.

As a result, the PHBG will continue to offer its services to anyone in the community.

“Some landholders may not recognise the benefits to the wider community access to biosecurity services can provide to local amenity, as well as our agricultural and natural systems,” the spokesperson said.

“Controlling established declared pests will continue to be a challenge in the face of changing climates and land use within the Peel Harvey area.

“Educating and assisting the community to meet their shared responsibility in respect to biosecurity becomes more and more important each day.”

Beyond education, the PHBG offers free loan equipment, expertise and resources whilst also validating community reports and liaising with landholders to eradicate weeds.

“The PHBG have provided over 500 pieces of equipment free for landholders in the Peel Harvey over the life of the program,” the spokesperson said.

With a single swarm containing hundreds of bulbs, and each bulb hundreds of seeds, unmanaged cottonbush can quickly overwhelm ecosystems.
Camera IconWith a single swarm containing hundreds of bulbs, and each bulb hundreds of seeds, unmanaged cottonbush can quickly overwhelm ecosystems. Credit: Craig Duncan

The infestation of cottonbush on the Harvey drain sits on land managed by the Water Corporation, with the PHBG spokesperson noting there had been “several reports” of the plant along Myalup Road.

“Those reports have been passed along to the publicly managed land manager where possible,” they said.

A Water Corporation spokesperson said they were aware of the infestation and had specialist contractors spraying the weed along the drain last month.

“The effects are expected to be evident in coming weeks,” they said.

“While this program helps minimise the spread of cottonbush along access tracks and in the drain, eradicating the weed is extremely difficult given seeds are widely dispersed by the wind.”

Despite the issues, Mr and Mrs Lofthouse said eradicating the weed is possible if well managed, stating they have removed the pest from several properties across the Shire of Harvey.

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