I don’t know about you, but I worry when someone appears to like fire a little too much. Today was surely one of those days when a little excitement was forgivable. The size of each fire was immense though it was also surprising how quickly each fire burnt down. Presumably many of you are asking why it was necessary to burn all this wood instead of mulching it or similar? This was definitely a question i asked too and the answer was pretty simple. Willows propagate so easily and are such an insidious pest that even small sections of branch or root are able to begin growing. It was for this reason that the Catchment Management Authority were fastidious in cleaning up the site and it is also for this reason that there will be a lot of ongoing work removing small willow plants that pop up before the native species get going again.
Clearing the willows was always going to be an epic job. The wetland is about 500m long and up to 150m wide with the majority of it either difficult to access by foot or too deep for machinery. The WGCMA solution was to have a ground crew with chainsaws cutting down whatever could be accessedby foot and then having a long armed excavator remove the felled willows and reach across into the areas that could not be traversed by foot. The felled trees were then piled up into giant mounds for burning the following winter. As the willows were removed a surprising number of healthy tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica) were revealed.
The vineyard is bisected by a large wetland covering about 20 acres but like many waterways in Australia this wetland has become clogged by species of willows. Willows can be aggressive weeds and spread via seeds and branch and root sections which propagate easily in continuously wet or moist soil. Gradually the willows displace native species, reduce water flows and change the ecology of the area. For more information on why willows are considered weeds of national importance click here. The first slide above shows a small pocket of remnant native vegetation dominated by tea trees and coral ferns. This is roughly what we hope the whole area will look like 30 or 40 years from now after the worst areas are cleared and replanted. The second slide shows the wetland looking east or downhill. The majority of what is in shot are willow species with only the occasional tea tree visible in the distance. The third slide shows a deeper section of the wetland where the water is too deep for the willows. This area is home to many birds species (see the species gallery for what we have identified so far) and we would expect this area to become larger once the willows have been removed as less water is lost to the willows. The fourth slide shows the dam or soak that is at the western end of the wetland. This area is also home to many birds, frogs, turtles and snakes. We are currently talking with the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority about ways to improve this wetland and hopefully our next post late in 2011 will confirm what action will be taken. Cheers for now, Mark