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2 October, 2020

Love thy neighbour

THE SPREAD of prickly acacia and other declared weeds throughout Western Queensland is widely acknowledged as one of the biggest threats to the continued productivity of the grazing industry.

Weed seeds are transported in all manner of ways, whether by livestock, stuck to vehicles or machinery, in bales of hay, blowing in the breeze or flowing down creeks. 

There are plenty of ways however to protect your property from these threats, but it’s also worth reflecting on your own weed management – are you pulling your weight, are you a good neighbour?

The movement of weeds across property boundaries is a serious concern for many landholders. It creates new problem areas, expands existing infestations and threatens all the time, money and hard work put in by landholders to get on top of what they’ve already got. 

It’s no surprise that this encroachment from fence lines creates conflict between owners of adjoining properties.

Doug Allpass is no stranger to the topic of weed control. His role at the Longreach-based natural resource management group, Desert Channels Queensland, has given him greater insight into the various issues affecting weed management and neighbourly relations.

“The thing is, we all have different attitudes and plans around weed control, usually because of the level of infestation on our property, our financial situation and ultimately, how much it will cost to kill the weeds – for some it’s more, for others it’s less”, Doug said.

“If you’ve got paddocks full of weeds, forking out the money to treat it all at once is an overwhelming, almost impossible concept. 

"Even though the grass that comes back will easily give you your return on investment, that return is rain dependent. Where the weeds die, the grass won’t grow until that ground gets wet. So, if you don’t get a wet season, you could be carrying that extra debt with you into another drought, that’s the scary part about it."

“We’re not all in the same boat with our land or our finances. Some people are living the weed-free dream, some inherit insurmountable infestations when they take on a new property, while others have let their weeds get away on them," Doug said.

"But, it doesn’t matter where you are or whatever your history, we all have neighbours, and because of that we have a responsibility to not let the actions on our property affect the place next door. Love them or hate them, that’s just the decent thing to do.”

“It’s about giving your neighbour a fair go.”

In recent years a number of central west councils have created a new approach to neighbourhood weed management. In 2012, funding from the State and Federal Governments under the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative helped the Flinders Shire Council developed a ‘good neighbour’ policy as part of their pest management plan, to reduce potential conflict between landholders in regard to the spread of the weed of national significance - prickly acacia. 

The Good Neighbour Program (GNP) has a number of key actions aimed at reducing the spread of pest plants impacting neighbours.

Doug Allpass explains, “The GNP is a voluntary program, but has funding to support people involved. As a landholder, you're signing up to containing the spread of weeds from your property to your neighbours. It’s really just to formalise your commitment, to hold yourself to a standard that is respected in your area.”

“One of the fundamentals of the GNP is the maintenance of a weed-free buffer zone along boundary fences. We’re talking at least 10 metres. 

"For starters, that means there are no seed pods hanging over the fence for the neighbour’s livestock to munch on and go deposit somewhere in the paddock. But obviously wind and water are big transporters of seeds too, so the wider that boundary buffer is, the less of a chance any seed is going to make it into the neighbour’s place. It’s a similar concept to a fire break.”

The GNP requires the weed-free boundary buffers to extend 250 metres upstream up a watercourse, with at least 10 metres either side of the bank to be cleared as well.

“That 250 metres mightn’t seem like much if that creek is draining off a big paddock full of prickles, but it’s based on a study by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries which showed that the amount of weed seed coming downstream was almost halved by this relatively small distance. It would definitely depend on the type of country you’re in, the intensity of the rain event and what sort of weeds you’re dealing with, but as a general rule, it’s quite beneficial. We in DCQ would obviously like you to be great neighbour and treat the whole watercourse and stop all the seed but 250 metres is a start”

A great way to set some goals with weed control is with a weed management plan. This is something the council or DCQ can help you to fill out. Doug explained that it can be as simple as mapping out where your weeds are, their rough density, and what methods are best to use for the infestations you have.

“In addition to the boundaries, you want to prioritise roads and stock routes. Having those corridors clear of weeds is another part of being a good neighbour, and a responsible member of your community”, Doug said.

“Just imagine if we could turn back the clock to when these weeds were first recognised as a problem. If we’d got on top of the infestations then, today we’d only be whinging about the weather.”

With the benefit of hindsight and a significant degree of research and funding, DCQ and the wider grazing community have turned the tide on weeds like Prickly Acacia. The area of these weeds has reduced by almost 2 million hectares in the last five years. However, the war is far from over. Doug believes that it will take a community approach and good neighbours for that investment to be protected and continued.

Barcaldine Regional Council is now working on its own GNP where it has subsidised the work on over 40 properties from Muttaburra to Aramac, Barcaldine and across to Jericho.

DCQ and local contractors are helping with much of the work, and hopefully this wet season is wet, but there are a lot of landholders that have been working hard to ensure that when the rains do come, they really are great neighbours.

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